Speech by Dr Amy Khor, Senior Minister of State for Health, at the National Silver Academy Showcase, 28 June 2016

Distinguished Guests

Ladies and Gentlemen

            Good morning. I am very happy to be here with you this morning at the National Silver Academy Showcase. Today’s event sets out the wide range of affordable learning opportunities that we are making available for seniors through the National Silver Academy.

2.         I believe that learning is intrinsically valuable. Learning is not just a means to an end. It is an end in itself too – in broadening minds, in connecting us with society and in inspiring imagination. I also believe that learning should be ageless; there should be no expiry date to education or learning. Our goals for learning can change throughout life. While younger Singaporeans pursue education and then skills upgrading to advance their careers or enhance their employability, many seniors who are retired still want to learn, not for work, but for self-actualisation or to seek new meaning in their lives.  We owe it to them to help them fulfil these aspirations.

National Silver Academy

3.         Under the Action Plan for Successful Ageing, the Ministry of Health has worked with Ministry of Education  to establish the National Silver Academy to enable seniors to pursue learning in diverse areas, and learn for the sake of learning. When we were developing this Action Plan, we held a series of some 50 focus group discussions to hear over 4,000 Singaporeans’ ideas on what successful ageing means to them. We met many enthusiastic seniors who proposed that we should provide more opportunities for older Singaporeans to learn, not just for work, but for learning’s sake. Many seniors, including pioneers, told us that they did not have the opportunity to have a proper education in their younger days, and now that they have the means and the time, they want to fulfil their dreams of going back to school, to learn again. Many seniors told us that they wanted to keep their minds active and to stay in touch with society.

4.         In response to these sentiments, the National Silver Academy was born. The National Silver Academy is a network of post-secondary education institutions, comprising ITE, polytechnics, publicly-funded universities and arts institutions, as well as community-based organisations that offer a wide range of learning opportunities to seniors.  Seniors aged 50 and above can search and sign up on the National Silver Academy website for more than 10,000 learning places for over 500 courses offered by the partner institutions.  

5.         Seniors can choose from three types of learning opportunities:

·         Firstly, seniors can sign up for short courses ranging from 3 hours to 45 hours. Through these courses, seniors can upgrade their skills and pursue new knowledge and hobbies. One example would be the “Make Your Phone Work For You” course that is being held here at Temasek Polytechnic today, for seniors to learn how to use their smartphones effectively. For short courses offered by post-secondary educational institutes, Singaporean seniors aged 50 years and above will receive a subsidy of 50% off the course fee, capped at $500 per course. We have also supported community-based organisations to develop and offer short courses with affordable course fees.  

·         Secondly, there are “exam-free” modules, which are select modules that ITE, polytechnics and publicly-funded universities have opened up to seniors from their certificate, diploma, post-diploma and full degree programmes. Seniors only need to pay a token fee to attend classes together with younger full-time students, and they do not have to take exams! I’m sure their younger classmates will be very envious. 

·         Thirdly, there are ad-hoc learning opportunities like talks and seminars offered for free by our community based organisations, such as RSVP Singapore and Family Central. One such opportunity is the Intergenerational Learning Programme, which pairs seniors with school students to learn about topics like social media and music.

6.         We understand that affordability is a key concern for seniors who are interested in taking up these learning opportunities. Hence, we have strived to make it affordable for seniors to keep learning and stay active. On top of the National Silver Academy course subsidies provided for seniors, more than 70% of the National Silver Academy courses are eligible for SkillsFuture credit. This means that seniors can use their $500 SkillsFuture Credit to pay the out-of-pocket course fees for most courses, and still have enough SkillsFuture Credit leftover to pursue a second eligible course. In this way, learning does not have to come at a great cost to seniors, but can provide a lot of benefits which include keeping active and making new friends.

Joy of Lifelong Learning

7.         As the saying goes, you are never too old to go back to school. I am happy to learn that seniors are enjoying the courses, with over 1,300 sign-ups since some of the courses were opened for registration from May this year. I hear that popular courses include Western Art, Playing the Keyboard, and even Android App Development! I encourage Singaporeans above the age of 50 to go to the National Silver Academy website to start looking for courses that they are interested in. There are many course offerings in different areas such as health and wellness, IT and science, finance and business, media, arts and design, humanities, and ageing and life skills, that will cater to wide range of interests.

8.         I find it especially meaningful to hear about how seniors have embraced these learning opportunities with enthusiasm. One such example is 69-year-old Mr Wong Kang Chin, who took part in the Intergenerational Learning Programme, where he was paired up with Republic Polytechnic students to learn how to use photo editing software. Mr Wong shared that the students’ energy and enthusiasm made him feel young learning from them, and that he was inspired to live life meaningfully and to impart his knowledge to the students as well. Mr Wong will be continuing his learning journey with the National Silver Academy through an upcoming short course “Social Media Marketing for Your Business” offered by Singapore Polytechnic. Senior learners such as Mr Wong are actively redefining what it means to be a senior in Singapore. They are role models for all Singaporeans, and inspire us all to embrace exciting and new learning adventures even in our silver years.

9.         I would like to take this opportunity to thank the educational institutes and community organisations that have come onboard the National Silver Academy to offer this diverse range of learning opportunities to seniors. Learning does not stop once students graduate from school, but is indeed a lifelong endeavour that provides many benefits throughout one’s lifetime. Therefore, as our population ages, we should also examine how seniors learn best, so as to create learning experiences that are suitable for seniors. I am encouraged that our educators have joined us in the quest to help older Singaporeans fulfil their aspiration to learn as well, and I hope that over time we will be able to grow the number and range of learning opportunities for our seniors.

Conclusion

10.       In closing, I would like to encourage all our senior guests present today to visit the booths that have been set up outside this auditorium and explore the wide range of learning opportunities that have been made available through the National Silver Academy. Let us all embrace lifelong learning as a way of life, so as to age with grace and confidence. 

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