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Successful ageing: How learning new skills and hobbies keeps this avid learner active and connected

For Mdm Margaret Tang, life-long learning lets her pick up new skills and stay in touch with the world

To Ms Tang, active ageing is about carrying on with what you have been doing and getting better at it with age. PHOTO: Wee TY

Ms Margaret M Tang may have spent the bulk of her adult life taking care of her family and raising her daughter, now a 15-year-old student.  But that has never kept her from venturing beyond her home to learn new skills, “resurrect” her many hobbies.

Ms Tang even co-founded an informal writers’ group, The Rainforest Writers. Once a month, the group’s 10 members, aged from 17 to 60-something, meet online to share feedback on one another’s works.  

The articulate 53-year-old is stumped when asked what a typical day is like for her. “I’m not a person of routine,” the former senior systems engineer, who has also taught jewellery making, says. 

This is because the avid learner does a myriad of things, from baking and re-potting plants in her balcony to reading and writing short stories. For nine years, she also sang with the Singapore Symphony Chorus and worked as a museum docent. 

More recently, she tapped on the SGUnited Skills Programme, completing an 11-month social media marketing course at the Singapore Media Academy. With her newly acquired knowledge, the ad-hoc voiceover artist, who has done TV commercials and narration, hopes to further her career in the field by marketing her website better.

But it’s not only about picking up new skills for her own benefit. Ms Tang also wants to help others get ahead in their careers by training them in public speaking, writing and presentation. Besides this, she hopes to teach foreigners English so that they are better equipped to work in Singapore.

And despite her already busy schedule both at home and outside of it, Ms Tang joined the Citizens’ Panel on Contribution over four weekends last September and October. In support of the Refresh of the Action Plan for Successful Ageing, the Ministry of Health (MOH), the Ministry of Culture, Community and Youth (MCCY), and the Ministry of Manpower (MOM), jointly organised a virtual Citizens' Panel to encourage the public to innovate and champion ideas to enable seniors to continue contributing at the workplace or in the community in their golden years.

Yet, Ms Tang, who has been married for 27 years and whose husband is a retiree, does not see herself as an “impressive example” of active ageing.

“I’m just an ordinary 53-year-old and 53 isn’t old to me. But I also don’t think about feeling young or about ageing. I just care about maintaining my ability to live well,” she stresses, adding that she avoids junk and processed food or soft drinks.

She says that those who are impressed with what she is doing at her age are probably prejudiced against older people and have the impression of how all senior citizens are like Liang Po Po (a caricature of an old woman made famous by TV personality and movie director Jack Neo).

To her, age is just a number – unless ageing has brought about a physical or mental health condition – and that a 60-year-old who has always been active in his or her younger days will still be active at an older age.

“Active ageing is about carrying on with what you have been doing and getting better at it with age. With more life experience and knowledge, I find it easier to learn new things to keep my mind active, whether it’s reading my daughter’s ‘O’ Levels chemistry textbooks or editing, directing and writing the script for a short film.”

She also feels lucky living in Singapore with its many free activities like photography clubs at community centres and e-learning resources as well as talks and workshops at the libraries. For the digitally savvy, free webinars and YouTube videos “let you teach yourself anything”.

Ms Tang explains that while she has had more experience with technology thanks to her job as a senior systems engineer in the IT sector in her younger days, she still needs to re-learn everything because things have changed drastically 20 years later.

“It’s actually not hard to learn software because many share a similar interface. It’s really about removing the barrier of fear.” In fact, she says that now is the best time for seniors to pick up digital skills because of the government’s push towards digitalisation during the on-going Covid-19 pandemic.

For some older people, Ms Tang acknowledges that it’s not the fear of technology but also about having a shy, introverted personality that prevents them from going out to interact with others and make new friends.

“The more activities you have, the more social groups you will have. It’s good to plan and create a circle of support as well as have hobbies when you are younger so that you feel occupied even after retirement and age successfully. You can also create your own interest groups by hosting activities. It’s like assembling a kampong around yourself.”

 

The Action Plan for Successful Ageing

  • Launched in 2015 by the Ministerial Committee on Ageing (MCA) to chart the way forward for Singaporeans to age more confidently and gracefully.
  • In 2017, the MCA also launched the “I Feel Young SG” campaign to promote the Action Plan and encourage active ageing. Visit http://www.ifeelyoung.sg.
  • To cater to seniors of today and tomorrow, we must continue to respond to a greater diversity of needs, and consider the new operating environment and learnings from Covid-19. Hence, the MCA is refreshing the Action Plan focused on:
    • Care: We will empower seniors to take charge of their physical and mental well-being through preventive health, active ageing programmes and care services to stay healthy and pursue their aspirations.
    • Contribution: We will enable seniors to continue to contribute their knowledge and expertise and remain resilient, through an enhanced learning, volunteerism and employment landscape
    • Connectedness: We will support seniors to age-in-place within an inclusive built environment, while staying connected to their loved ones and society through digital platforms and support networks that embody the "kampung spirit".

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