Seniors in the classroom

Marie Neubergerova, Marie Novakova and Helena Wolfova, photo: Robert Rambousek, MFDnes, 2.2.06

They say we never stop learning. This week three students from Prague's Centre for Life-Long Learning celebrated birthdays over 90—their combined age, an incredible 274. With a rapidly aging population in Prague - almost 16 percent of the Czech Republic's seniors live in the capital - there is a growing focus on organized activities for the elderly.

A group of Prague's seniors have discovered the recipe for a long, healthy life: exercise, and continued education. Want to learn Arabic, or master the tango? Thanks to Prague's Centre for Life-Long Education, established in the autumn of 2005, seniors have plenty of opportunities to expand their horizons without breaking the bank. Dana Steinova of the Centre for Life-Long Education explains what's on offer at the center.

"In this semester 4128 students registered. This centre is unique because it offers more than systematic educational programs—for example, the history of art takes 16 semesters, world history lasts 10 semesters, psychology 8 semesters, and the history of music 8 semesters. There is a real possibility to become familiar with subjects that most of the population is interested in only as a hobby, because they can't study them professionally since the admissions to these fields is so limited. The centre is also special because it offers a rich program of extra courses which the students teach one another. These courses include 21 different foreign languages, thai-chi, yoga, exercise to prevent osteoporosis, health classes, classes in renaissance dance, painting, bridge, sewing—and all of this for a symbolic payment of 200 crowns per year."

One of the Centre's faithful students, Helena Wolfova—age 92—told Radio Prague why the University for Seniors plays an important role in her life.

"I can tell you that I've been learning all my life. I have several graduation certificates, and university exams, and I worked at the department of oncology at Bulovka Hospital where you always had to study the latest. Then I got married and had small children, but I was constantly missing formal education, so I learned three more languages. I was always learning something. Then there was a death in my family and I saw I didn't have anything fulfilling around me, and by chance I learned that this course was opening. By now I've probably graduated from every class."

Learning is really a life-long passion for these seniors, and it's expanded their horizons far beyond the boundaries of the Czech Republic. Dana Steinova explains how student exchanges have furthered contacts with other seniors across the globe.

"Since 1991 I've been organizing reciprocal exchanges for my students with various foreign universities for seniors. Believe me, I've taken them around the world twice-over! We were in Australia twice, in New Zealand, in America three times, in Canada, three times in the United Kingdom, as well as almost all the other European states. Next year we have an exchange with the seniors' university in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, and with the university in Melbourne, Australia. We'll also have a visit from students of the University of Free Time in Singapore—and they are adopting the model of our entire program for the University of Free Time."

If this interest keeps up, Prague's University for Seniors will need more classroom space.