Who are the "disadvantaged seniors" of Europe, and how can they be identified?
Although the term "disadvantaged" is a case specific (as referring to those in a disadvantaged, needy or deprived state or position) and non-definitive term that must be approached within a specific context (social, economic, cultural, educational, medical, etc.), in general terms, the "disadvantaged" in the European social policy agenda is that particular group of people with inadequate learning resources due to limited or restricted (due to a variety of factors) access to learning providers. Namely, the unemployed, the education dropouts, the migrants, the unskilled and the low skilled, the people with disabilities (mental or physical) and the elderly (50+).
Especially for the latter group of the so-called "elderly", emphasis on lifelong learning at national and international level suggests that the time is ripe to launch a new debate about purpose in the provision of educational opportunities for older people. Does the ageing of populations, especially the emergence of the so-called ‘Third Age´, pose a challenge to popular notions of lifelong learning?
The answer could be ‘yes´, however, not all elderly, seniors, aged or 50+ adults may be categorized as disadvantaged (learners). Glendenning (2001) citing Tyler (1978 & 1979), points out that there are two major assumptions in the policy and much of the literature relating to older adults (that are considered as disadvantaged) that must be challenged: Firstly, that all people over a given arbitrary age (60 or 65 for instance) can be lumped together and dealt with as though they were a homogeneous group; secondly, the assumption that the elderly, as a group, are in some specific way disadvantaged educationally because of the one factor of their age. If these two assumptions are challenged then the question as to whether provision for elderly people should or should not be separated from the provision for the general population becomes easier to resolve. This is because the elderly can be separated into different target groups, in exactly the same way as with the adult population at large.
It is in this respect that we need to make a clear distinction among those seniors who make that conscious decision to access and participate in learning activities and those who do not, in order to identify the ones benefiting from learning and the ones who don´t and therefore may be considered disadvantaged.
Text: Georgios K. Zarifis, Assistant Professor of Continuing Education at Aristotle University of Thessaloniki