Getting a degree
The oldest graduand in this year’s Singapore University of Social Studies convocation event was 73-year-old Tan Tiang Wang.
This year’s Singapore University of Social Studies (SUSS) convocation event had the largest graduating cohort with nearly 3,000 graduands. Out of those, 24 of the graduates were aged 60 and above. This was also an uptick from the previous year, which saw 18 graduates aged 60 and above.
Also this year, the oldest graduand was 73-year-old Tan Tiang Wang who graduated with a bachelor’s degree in general studies (though he finished the programme in November last year). He already has a professional certificate in nautical studies from Singapore Polytechnic back in 1969 and also obtained a business diploma from Temasek Polytechnic in 2015.
He decided to put his further educational pursuits on hold. “I decided to start to work, first at sea and then as a businessman,” the grandfather of three and father of five shared. He was a seafarer in the 1970s till 1985 and moved on to work at a shipping company till 2005. Then he owned a vehicle leasing company till 2015.
Besides getting the business diploma, also in 2015, he took three free courses at SIM University (now called SUSS) mainly as a pastime and self-actualisation. But one thing led to another. He said, “I had a lot of free time as my children had all graduated and were working. I also think it is important to keep the mind active at my age to prevent the onset of dementia.”
He added, “I learnt that by 2030, one in four seniors will be at risk of getting dementia. I am interested to learn what we can do to reduce this risk in our society.”
So that same year, he started the degree programme at SUSS and at first, found it challenging. “It was initially challenging, as the younger folks have different worldviews and ways of thinking. Having stopped formal education for a long time, I also asked a lot of questions during class. It was also challenging to pick up computer skills, as I am more used to pen and paper. My daughter would help by showing me how to use the computer. I also studied using hardcopy notes.”
Tiang Wang appreciated it was a part-time programme and could then pace himself. He said, “I printed all my lecture notes and read them before attending lectures so as to better understand the subject.” It also helped that his family was “supportive and helpful” of his educational pursuit.
Now that he has graduated, he has already jumped onto his next milestone – undertaking a graduate diploma in gerontology. He said, “It is a graduate diploma which can stack up towards a master’s, which is about four years.” Yes, he has his sights on that too! “I hope to one day be able to pursue a master’s degree.”
Besides his educational pursuit, he continues to stay fit by cycling 15km in the morning, as well as 15km in evening every day, and listening to music.
Asked what he would say to his peers who may want to get a degree too, he said, “Age is just a number. Even if you are a senior, it doesn’t mean that you can’t do anything. You can exercise, go to school, appreciate music and make yourself feel younger.”
Lots of opportunities for seniors
A SUSS spokesperson shared the reasons why seniors are choosing to go back to school, “Seniors embrace the opportunity to return to school, driven by motivations that mirror their lifelong pursuit of knowledge and personal growth. Whether they are fulfilling deferred dreams due to earlier obstacles like financial constraints or family commitments, engaging in lifelong learning or making a career switch to contribute to society, seniors are redefining their golden years through education. The courses supported by the National Silver Academy (the administrator being the Council for Third Age) also play a pivotal role in motivating seniors to embark on their educational journeys.
Their diverse interests include popular subjects like the ageing process, retirement planning, financial management and health-related courses, with some expressing notable enthusiasm for technology.”
The university shared that its gerontology programme that Tiang Wang is taking provides a deeper understanding of ageing and eldercare, while “the flexibility of programmes like the Bachelor of General Studies – with over 700 elective courses and a 10-year completion window – resonates well with seniors seeking a gradual reentry into academia”.
“With a wealth of life experiences, our senior learners not only thrive in their academic pursuits but also enrich class discussions. They are adept at applying their knowledge in practical, meaningful ways in their daily lives. We encourage senior learners to embrace the joy of learning, connect with fellow learners, and enjoy the journey, which is key to ensuring a fulfilling educational experience.”
So what are some general tips for seniors to make their learning journey more successful and enjoyable? The SUSS spokesperson shared:
- Stay relaxed: Don’t feel pressured. Learning at any age is about the joy of acquiring knowledge.
- Seek technical support: If you have any technical needs or challenges, don’t hesitate to ask for help. Technology should be an aid, not a barrier to your learning.
- Learn for fun: Embrace the joy of learning for its own sake. Curiosity is a powerful motivator.
- Form a peer learning support group: Connect with fellow learners, share experiences and support each other. Learning together can be highly rewarding.
- Enjoy the learning process: Relish the journey itself. Learning is not just about the destination but also the experience along the way.
- Apply what you’ve learnt in daily life: The true value of learning is in how you can apply it in your daily life. Take the knowledge you gain and use it to enhance your life and the lives of those around you.
These tips should help seniors make the most of their learning experience and find fulfilment in their educational pursuits, said SUSS.