In class to learn, and make friends

In a dimly lit room in Chinatown Point, a small group of older men and women peer intently at a PowerPoint presentation as their instructor deftly teaches them how to edit videos they have shot.

Mostly in their 60s and 70s, the students have signed up for eight weekly sessions of three hours each. The classes are organised by the University of the Third Age (U3A Singapore), one of the newest channels in Singapore for seniors to learn.

Set up by the Singapore Association for Continuing Education in March last year, U3A Singapore is part of a global movement with the same name.

It enables like-minded seniors to form "learning communities" based on their individual skills and interests. It already has more than 400 members in Singapore, says its president, Mr Goh Kim Seng, 71.

Many of its courses have proven popular - one on applied psychology for seniors, for instance, has 100 people waiting to enrol. Class sizes are generally limited to 20 to enable better discussions.

Indeed, while the number of seniors heading to university here is relatively modest, thousands more are enrolling in short courses to learn a skill, forge new friendships or seek intellectual stimulation.

U3A Singapore is but one of several organisations offering such opportunities and the Government has made many of these courses free for seniors for this year as part of the SG50 celebrations.

"What makes us different from those who go to university is that there is no stress, no exams," says Mr Goh, a retired management consultant. Both his children live overseas. "No grandchildren here, so I have plenty of time to follow other pursuits," he says with a laugh.

Other organisations with similar mandates include the People's Association's Senior Academy, Yah! Community College and the National University of Singapore Senior Alumni.

The senior alumni, a group of older graduates from Singapore's oldest university, celebrated its fifth anniversary yesterday at a gala dinner attended by Emeritus Senior Minister Goh Chok Tong.

It organises monthly tea and chat sessions with experts on a range of topics, from current affairs and the latest developments in technology to health and retirement finance and reminiscing about milestones in Singapore's history.

The group comprises NUS graduates, past faculty members and their spouses. Most are in their 60s and 70s or older. Several members are in their 80s and some are 90 plus, said Senior Alumni president Rosemary Khoo, 72, who graduated 50 years ago with a bachelor's degree in English and Economics. She later did her master's and completed her PhD in applied linguistics from Australia at the age of 45.

For Dr Khoo, who is widowed and has no children, these informal gatherings are filled with "fun, fellowship and discovery".

"It's our way of remembering the past and staying engaged in the present," she said.

Radha Basu

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on June 28, 2015, with the headline 'In class to learn, and make friends'. Print Edition | Subscribe