Education as a lifeline for elderly Belarusians?
In 2030 the number of elderly in Belarus will predictably reach 29,7% of the population. Life quality of seniors in Belarus is low and nothing indicates further improvement.
Instead of the pension age reform, elderly population needs an effective strategy of active ageing. One of the main tasks lies in providing educational opportunities for this group.
Despite the fast ageing of the country, Belarus demonstrated little experience in educating seniors, comparing to the neighbouring EU countries.
Education of seniors in Belarus: in search of the own model
As a response to ageing trends, in 1973 Pierre Vela opened the first “Third Age University” in the world, located in France. With the aim of better integration of elderly to the society, Vela’s university focused on the communication of younger and older population through education. Third Age Universities further formed the ideas of using a potential of elderly in economy, creating opportunities for intellectual, physical and social activation, building anti-discrimination environment for seniors.
Third Age Universities received wide popularity in the beginning of 2000, forming two main models of seniors education. French model implies binding of the seniors’ education projects to universities in form of autonomous departments. According to the British model, Third Age Universities emerge on the basis of NGOs. 20 years after the foundation of the first Third Age University the ideas of seniors education came to Belarus.
Historically, the first project for seniors education in Belarus emerged due to the work of Union of Poles in Belarus in the 1990s. Mokotow Third Age University (Warsaw) supported the foundation of educational platform for seniors in Hrodna. Although the initiative succeeded quickly, only representatives of the Polish minority participated in the project.
In 2010 the NGO ‘The Third Sector’ in Hrodna founded the first Belarusian Third Age University. The largest such university started its work in Minsk in 2013 as a project of the NGO ‘Belarusian Association of Social Workers’ funded by the German foundation ‘Remembrance, responsibility and future’. The government has quickly followed the path and introduced its own Institutes of the Third Age. Based in Brest and Navapolatsk, Third Age Institutes form a part of the local social care centres.
Currently, there are four Third Age Universities in Belarus with relatively low coverage of students.
Despite the similarities of state and non-state projects, educational approaches significantly differ. Governmental projects mainly focus on psychological and social support for seniors. At the same time, independent Third Age Universities tend to develop new skills and knowledge for further empowerment and stimulate active participation of Belarusian seniors.
Although such universities provide education for elderly, Belarus lacks action plans for seniors. An absence of project for seniors education in academic system characterises Belarusian model for seniors education.
Belarusian Response to Ageing
Increasing retirement age became a response of Belarusian government to ageing challenge. Since 2017 a retirement age in Belarus will annually increase for 6 months preserving a 5-year gender gap. On one hand, raising a pension age sounds rational. On the other hand, such decision fails to improve seniors life quality.
The income-replacement ratio in Belarus – 43% – is close to many European countries. At the same time, Belarusians now earn extremely low wages. The researcher of IPM Research Centre Hleb Šymanovič notes that increasing the retirement age is unable to insure seniors from impoverishment and decreasing of living standards.
Low pensions force people to search for the new sources of income. Due to a reducing physical activity, seniors face a challenge in working at the same positions or finding new jobs without needed competencies.
Today only 11% of Belarusian elderly supplement pensions with additional work. This is the lowest labour force rate of 65+ population among the Post-Soviet countries.
A decreasing speed of the information processing, as well as a need of permanent repetition in the learning process, require customisation of educational programmes to demands of seniors. Organising more educational opportunities for elderly would develop an inclusive society where seniors have enough competencies for a modern labour market. With the development of technologies elderly require additional knowledge.
Digital education has a wide popularity in Hrodna Golden Age University and Minsk Third Age University. A success of computer literacy courses created by mobile provider MTS proves a high demand for digital education among seniors. The project aimed at educating seniors in digital sphere had more than 30 study centres and 2,000 graduates across Belarus.
Integration in education enables seniors with additional instruments for managing own and public issues independently. This could significantly reduce the workload of the social system and impact to the country’s economy.
It would also be beneficial for seniors and state to shorten expenses for medical care. Widening a promotion of healthy lifestyle with services like Texas medicare, physical activities, workshops, through education would have a positive impact on seniors life quality. Despite this, the Universities help to change a perception of elderly by the society, – believes a coordinator of the Third Age University in Minsk, Alena Stanislauchyk.
First Steps to Start
The fast ageing of the world demands to search for new approaches of seniors empowerment. In Belarus a share of 60+ population has overcome 20%. At the same time, low pensions and lack of professional competencies lead to low labour force participation of seniors. In such situation, education can become a lifeline for elderly Belarusians.
Four Third Age Universities with small amount of students across Belarus are struggling to provide educational opportunities for Belarusian seniors. An introduction of the French model in Belarus would allow reaching a progress in seniors education.
The state, civil society, academic institutions and seniors themselves can take responsibility for creation of the Third Age Universities and other educational platforms, as it often happens in Poland, Great Britain, Lithuania and other countries.
Development of the action plans for elderly in Belarus would positively reflect on the economic and social systems of the country. However, these steps are unrealistic until Belarusian seniors, society and government recognise a need for changes.
The 4th Annual Dutch-Belarusian-Polish Conference: Education as a Human Right
On 13 December 2016 Minsk will host the 4th Annual Dutch-Belarusian-Polish Conference. The year the topic is 'Education as a Human Right: Modernising Higher Education to Meet the Challenges of the 21st Century'.
The conference will take place three days after International Human Rights Day, which commemorates the adoption in 1948 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights by the United Nations general assembly. Belarus, Poland, and the Netherlands – founding members of the United Nations – also observe this day.
Article 26 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights states that everyone has the right to education, which shall be directed to the full development of the human personality and to the strengthening of respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms.
Improving higher education will be the main focus of the discussion-oriented conference. It will give experts from Belarus, the Netherlands, and Poland an opportunity to discuss what each country can learn from others.
As with other conferences co-organised by the Ostrogorski Centre, it will bring together people with different views and backgrounds to engage in respectful dialogue. The speakers will include representatives of educational institutions from the Netherlands, Poland, and Belarus, as well as Belarusian government agencies and NGOs.
the conference will bring together people with different views and backgrounds to engage in respectful dialogue Read more
For each topic, the Ostrogorski Centre will prepare a short working paper to focus discussion on real practise. Belarus Digest, Ostro.by, and Ideaby.org will also provide a live broadcast of the event as well as archived videos following the conference.
The conference will focus on three key topics: the challenges of Belarus accession to the European Higher Education Area, improving business education, and making education more accessible through distance education.
Integration into the European Higher Education Area (EHEA)
Belarus occupies a relatively high position on the Human Development Index compared to other CIS countries; about 90% of the population possesses secondary or higher education. According to the Legatum Prosperity Index 2016, Belarus surpasses Russia, Ukraine, Lithuania, and certain EU countries with regard to access to education, quality of education, and the human potential.
However, Belarus still needs to do more to integrate into pan-European education structures, as it is one of the last countries in the region to join the Bologna process. Its accession has been viewed as an opportunity for authorities to improve the situation.
At a conference of 47 EHEA ministers of education in 2015, Belarus committed to a roadmap for higher education reform as a prerequisite for joining the EHEA. The roadmap envisages modernisation of the professional qualifications framework, thus making it compatible with the European framework by introducing a three-cycle system of higher education.
Belarus has a long way to go to meet all the requirements of the European Higher Education Area Read more
Belarus has a long way to go to meet all the requirements of the EHEA. For example, students and staff face barriers to international mobility. Students and academics need to undergo lengthy procedures to be 'officially' allowed to attend education events abroad, although in many instances these requirements are not strictly enforced.
Advertisement for activities of foreign universities is strictly regulated by the anti-human trafficking law, developed by the Ministry of Internal Affairs. Self-governance and student organisations at universities face significant restrictions.
Business education for more dynamic economic growth
The Belarusian authorities have shown interest in the development of business education, as proved by the adoption of the corresponding Concept by the Belarusian government in 2015. Business education can help lift people out of poverty and improve their situation. However, the sector remains probably the most sensitive to the economic climate, which lately has not been ideal in Belarus. In neighbouring Poland and Russia, business education boomed in the early 1990s as the private sector grew.
Business educators often look more like training centres oriented towards small business than fully-fledged education institutions Read more
In Belarus, much of the economy is still state-owned and most Belarusian business educators lack wealthy clients. They often look more like training centres oriented towards small business than fully-fledged education institutions.
These days, those seeking business education opportunities are demanding that training leads to practical skills. The business education sector in Belarus suffers from excessive state regulation, poor integration into the international educational space, and weak representation of business educators in the regions.
Making education more accessible through distance education
Despite the wide penetration of high speed Internet in Belarus and the significant number of higher education institutions in the country, distance education in Belarus is very underdeveloped. Its expansion in Belarus would offer new opportunities to people with disabilities, people who live far from urban centres, or people who work full-time to obtain education. A flexible schedule and the ability to create an individual distance learning plan would allow students to combine education and work.
Poland, Latvia, and Russia, unlike Belarus, have separate institutions for distance education. For instance, over 20,000 students graduated from the Polish Virtual University in Łódź. The Netherlands is one of the world's leaders in distance education, offering hundreds of courses at different levels. Belarus will need to create a favourable legislative regime for regulation of distance education. It will also need to train instructors and encourage cooperation with institutions which use distance education successfully.
Cooperation with more experienced distance educators could create opportunities to provide distance education to entrepreneurs. Training on specific skills required on the labour market, along with creation of Belarus-focused massive open online courses (MOOCs), could also be provided.
These and other topics will be discussed in more detail in Minsk on 13 December at the 4th Annual Dutch-Belarusian-Polish Conference: 'Education as a Human Right: Modernising Higher Education to Meet the Challenges of the 21st Century'.