Can old dogs learn new tricks?

For this issue, I thought that I’ll share some personal observations.

We often hear of exhortations from government leaders, educators, supervisors and well- meaning friends for us to be lifelong learners, remain relevant and maintain our ability to function well in the increasingly digital world.

At the risk of generalising, for the more senior among us, this advice can be intimidating and may also fall on deaf ears. I have heard often times from seniors that they can afford to take a back seat, let the young “chiong” for the future is theirs to make. Leave us seniors to relax, enjoy our hard-earned leisure time after decades of work and care for the family. And also comments like “I don’t need the exam stress to get another certification” or “I don’t need the stress of not being able to follow the lessons to drive up my blood pressure”.

These are very real concerns of seniors in our society. They can be our parents, aunts and uncles and even ourselves. But is going with the flow and not getting on the learning band wagon the way to go? Can we survive and function just by keeping to our old ways and living day by day?

Looking around us, I think not. Just take daily living as an example. Food is something that we need each day. Now at the hawker centres, you will need to go online to access and redeem your CDC vouchers, at the markets you are urged to scan and pay for your vegetables etc. At the restaurants, the menu is digital and you need to order via the App for your food to be brought to your table. If you need to visit the hospital or polyclinic for your medical appointment, you can cut the queue by doing an online registration for your queue number before going to the hospital or clinic. The list goes on.

So how can we function without learning, at least the basics? We have to keep an open mind to learn, without adding on the stress. I think we need a tripartite effort. One, ourselves, we must recognise that each “I don’t know, do I need to know?” query is a learning moment. Once we accept that, we need to be convinced that we can acquire the skill relatively easily. This is when the next party comes on board, the patient assistants, people (with help from friendly robots by all means) who are trained to provide step-by-step guide with patience. Once seniors see the ease of use, without being judged for being slow on the initial uptake, they will be more willing to learn. And finally to sustain the habit, a third party needs to come in, the sponsors be they government or private philanthropic organisations that provide the little recognition and incentives. Once these seniors see learning as essential, not overly difficult and can even be fun, they will be motivated to learn.

Each of us can be a teacher and a learner at different times and in different settings. If the above resonates with you, why not start today, in your own little sphere of influence to teach and/or learn the little tasks that will smooth our paths. For the more driven and competitive ones, amass your certifications by all means. For others who prefer to learn without an exam hanging over you, just enjoy picking up little skills that will ease your daily living. Whether big or small, each effort should be celebrated and applauded. Help ourselves and help others be that lifelong learner.