The morning session focused on addressing the question, “Do we have to grow up to grow old?” This was led by Dr John Miles , who had organised the day , with presenters Dr Liesbeth de Block, Emily Momoh and Denise Wilkinson OBE. I led the afternoon session, “Teaching older student – does age matter?” representing both the OU and the Association for Education and Ageing.
It had been hoped that it would be possible to involve local sixth form sociology students who , apparently, study the life course. Unfortunately this did not happen as the school involved felt the demands of the curriculum left insufficient room for this ‘day out’. The sessions and the discussions throughout the day were excellent but I think the presence of school students would have added an invaluable dynamic.
Liesbeth de Block’s presentation outlined media research done with school age children in Kenya. In particular she focused on a soap opera –Makutano Juniors - designed to address the high dropout rate between primary and secondary school. This is a result of a number of factors including the start of fees and the use of English as the main medium for teaching. The soap is aimed at 10-14 year olds and this intention is that it sho0uld be viewed with family members. It is supposed to be viewed with family members. It is a magazine programme with items on numeracy, literacy, art, storytelling as well as a spin off from Makutano Junction –a an adult soap opera very popular in Kenya
The story lines in this spin off are very strong and highlight issues of rights, responsibilities and respect as far as children are concerned. Liesbeth was asked to conduct research into the effects of this programme.
She found that small detail often had powerful effects, for example how characters dressed. She also found that children were intrigued about being asked about their views but that it was difficult to get them to say what they actually thought
Parents often felt that the programme should act as a teaching machine although many acknowledge that it did help them raise difficult issues (such as sex education) with their children. Teachers, we were told, often felt threatened by the programme. Many saw it as a threat to their status and a challenge to their expertise although a few did recognise as a potentially valuable resource in a context were teaching resources are scarce.
Liesbeth’s presentation helped the participants consider the intergeneration aspect of the day and, to an extent, helped redress the lack of younger people in the audience. The presentations highlighting of the three words (rights, responsibilities and respect) helped remind us that these apply to everyone (of whatever age).
The focus on the notion that ageing is not just about old age was reinforced by Emily Momoh’s presentation about the Forgiveness Project. We were shown excerpts from a DVD “Unprovoked” which is a dramatised version of the true story of the murder of a teenage girl at a party in London. This video was used to encourage us to this about the impact of the choices that people make and it also raised, in a very powerful way, issues about jealousy and loyalty and the issues that young people have with families, especially broken families.
The final presentation of the morning was by Denise Wilkinson who outlined her involvement with ‘Gran Mentors’ and with Grand Parents Plus. Gran Mentors is an example of older people supporting younger people who have been ’in trouble’ or who have been in care. So far, is seems to work better with this second group and it clearly demonstrates the appetite of older people to open up to and support younger people. The same applies to the amount of caring of children done by grandparents which is important in the UK with its very high rates of child care costs.
The three sessions helped make the case that intergenerational contacts are vital in breaking down the stereotypes that different generations might have about each other and how these stereotypes can get in the way of seeing people as individuals.
It probably impossible for me to give an objective accounts of my own workshop. I thoroughly enjoyed doing it and the participants were engaged and joined in with a lively discussion on the topic of whether age matters in relation to teaching older students.
I structured the workshop by getting people to identify as either older students who thought age matters, older students who though age did not matter, teachers who though age matters and teachers who thought age did not matter. This resulted in four groups who each considered why they thought age did, or did not matter. The two teaching groups were then asked to produce some teaching while the older student groups were asked to say what they would look for in this teaching. I asked them to think about a mini-course on the Putney Debates of 1647 (the notion of the Kilburn debates is a reference to these debates at the end of the English Civil War when the extension of the franchise was discussed). As a focus this worked very well –to the extent that people from the Ransackers thought they should do a course on this topic.
So what conclusions did we reach? That’s quite a difficult one as sometimes the different groups seemed to use very similar arguments about the need to design learning with particular individuals in mind as to say both that age does matter and that age does not matter. There was a strong, if contested, feeling that it was not always comfortable for older people to learn alongside younger people –but this was hotly contested too. I thought it was remarkable that no one said that age matters because old people are different in some obvious way –for example there was no mention of older people finding it difficult to remember information. Great play was made of the fact that age can bring potentially useful experience and accumulated knowledge –although I did point out that for some if can reinforce negative or narrow views.
We probably didn’t anticipate that there would be any easy answers and perhaps it’s sufficiently valuable to highlight that there are no simple answers.
Dr Jonathan Hughes 17th May 2015