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Mr Kwok Wui San, Chairman, Council for Third Age

Distinguished Guests


Ladies and Gentlemen

          I am happy to join you today for the launch of the new training standards for trainers. I thank the Council for Third Age (C3A) and partners for all the work in this area. I have spoken a lot about ageing. Today, let me focus on the training guidelines.

Pedagogy and Andragogy

2       Teaching is a professional undertaking, requiring deep knowhow. To the best of my knowledge, there are at least three sets of knowhows.

3        The first, pedagogy, is derived from the Greek word ‘paedeia’, which refers to the education of young people. This is what I got to know as a young student. I enjoyed going to school and had great respect for my teachers. I enjoyed the Physical Education classes and recess most, but I also found the rest of the subjects interesting. Till today, I continue to be fascinated by the work of teachers and how they can fill the hearts, minds and hands of children with knowledge and skills.

4        Later, I became Minister for Education, and I learned that there is a lot to pedagogy. Beyond what I experienced, I learned about all the thought and knowhow that went into planning a lesson. The one basic thing I learnt is that there is a scaffold in every lesson, or for that matter, in questions asked during examinations. This is a critical aspect of pedagogy. Teachers are very mindful that young children often know very little about a topic or subject, and they need to build knowledge up, step by step from its foundation all the way to an advanced level.

5       In 2005, I became the CEO of a young statutory board called the Workforce Development Agency. It has since been re-organised to SkillsFuture Singapore and Workforce Singapore. Our mission was to champion lifelong learning, so that workers can keep their skills up to date in an ever-changing economy.

6       That was when I learnt the next set of teaching and training knowhow, called andragogy. ‘Andra’ also originated in the Greek language, which means an adult male or man. Today, of course, training of adults applies to both men and women. Over time, andragogy refers to the methods for teaching adults.

7       I learnt about andragogy especially from my Deputy CEO at that time, a gentleman from Australia called Dr Gary Willmott. He came from an organisation called Technical and Further Education (TAFE), which offers vocational and technical training for Australians of all ages. He came with a lot of knowledge on andragogy.

8       In short, we cannot teach adults like we teach children, or they will lose interest very quickly. We need to recognise that adults have already equipped themselves with the foundational skills and knowledge on many subjects – basic literacy, numeracy, soft skills – they already know.

9        Adult workers also have many responsibilities to juggle – family and work as well. While not all the time, they often want to learn something practical and which they can apply in their work immediately. In addition, adult workers have something very different from students, which is that they have a great propensity to learn from each other, because all of them have a lot of experiences to teach each other.

10      Hence, andragogy emphasises the recognition of prior learning, a much more interactive and hands-on approach to teaching, and focuses on imparting competencies. Today, we have an Institute of Adult Learning, which is now part of the Singapore University of Social Sciences (SUSS), to develop and impart andragogical skills to trainers and educators for adults.

The Rise of Geragogy

11       Our knowhow of pedagogy was built up because of the need to educate a young nation and prepare them for the future. Andragogy came into the limelight as the mandate for education expanded to include adult workers, driven by changes in our economy and labour market and the need for workers to constantly update their skills, stay relevant and adapt to changes.

12       Today, Singapore needs to confront another major trend, and that is the ageing of the Singapore society.

13       Safeguarding the wellbeing of seniors has become a priority, of which the most important aspect is their health and wellbeing. For the sick, our healthcare system will do its best to take care of them. But more importantly, for those who are not sick, even fit, we must help them maintain their health for as long as possible.

14       A major social determinant of good health for seniors is the opportunity and autonomy to learn new things, to continue to exercise their minds, cultivate a spirit of wonder, which is not the monopoly of the young, and feel that they are still growing as a person. We expanded education of the young to adults, and we called it ‘lifelong learning’, now we have to expand lifelong learning to long life learning!

15      To do so, we need to start to learn and develop a new skillsets and knowhow – in geragogy. ‘Geras’ is again a Greek word, meaning ‘old age’. Geragogy refers to the knowhow to teach seniors effectively. I went through the whole history of pedagogy, andragogy and geragogy, because I think it is very important that we understand the differences, if we want to do this job well.

16      I am no expert in geragogy and am totally new to it. It took me many years to learn about andragogy. But I do know for a fact that just like we cannot educate an adult like we educate a child, we cannot educate a senior the way we do for young people.

17      I know many trainers will associate geragogy with a slower pace of teaching. As Chairman mentioned, we all deteriorate, even in our 50s. This is indeed a practical consideration, because most seniors will be experiencing certain conditions that can affect them physically or cognitively, so lessons will need to be appropriately paced and structured.

18      However, even while being sensitive to these needs, I think there is a much more important principle at play when we deliver based on geragogy. I think it requires us to make a special effort to respect the autonomy and independence of seniors. I believe as a person gets older, the last thing they need is to be treated and reminded constantly that they have deteriorated. It can in fact be self-fulfilling. Hence, geragogy requires trainers to involve seniors in their learning process actively and have their sense of autonomy and independence reinforced constantly.

19       I went to a get-together for seniors in my constituency recently. After some performances by students, they were led to play tele-matches. As I walked near some of the seniors, they turned to me and said, “Are these games for kids?” I think this reflects the sense of knowing that we are old, but there is no need to remind us. I responded, “How about we give you a budget and you can shop for food, cook together and serve each other?” They said, “That’s wonderful!”. I think this gives them autonomy, independence, and makes them feel very useful, and of contribution to others. This is geragogy, in my view.

The Work of C3A

20      C3A has done a lot in this area, and there is a lot more to do. C3A is the key agency in Singapore which promotes learning and volunteerism amongst seniors, and their role will become more important as we become older as a society. It does so through the National Silver Academy (NSA) and the Silver Volunteer Fund.

21       Since NSA’s inception in 2016, more than 190,000 senior learners have benefitted, from over 1,000 learning opportunities offered. Some of these courses are applicable to seniors’ daily lives. They include learning how to keep fit, being an effective caregiver for a fellow senior, taking good care of children without spoiling them, or using digital tools.

22      In 2017 to 2018, Duke-NUS conducted an evaluation of NSA’s courses. The evaluation found that participants of training experienced multiple benefits. Their wellbeing improved. They felt a greater sense of personal fulfilment, and exhibited higher levels of social engagement, even months after attending the courses.

23       These benefits can only be realised, and enhanced over time, provided we deepen our expertise in geragogy. C3A launched the Geragogy Guidelines earlier in March 2021. The Guidelines, developed in partnership with the SUSS, are well-received by the local training community and recognised internationally as being useful and well thought out, and in fact the first in the world. Today, we are launching the Guidelines as the first national standard for senior learning. So we are formalising it as a knowhow, and we will continue to improve upon it.

24       With this development, we expect further widespread enhancement and improvement in the range and quality of courses for seniors in the years to come.


25      I would like to thank C3A, Singapore Standards Council which is overseen by Enterprise Singapore, the Working Group on Geragogy Guidelines, and all their partners for your continued efforts to support our seniors in leading active and fulfilling lives. Together, let us continue to build an age-friendly Singapore where our seniors can age gracefully with dignity and learning all the time.

26       I wish everyone a fruitful day ahead. Thank you.

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