This University Gives Senior Adults a Chance to Keep Learning

Lifelong learning initiatives keep seniors active and engaged.

Mar 28, 2022
This University Gives Senior Adults a Chance to Keep Learning | Lifelong learning initiatives keep seniors active and engaged.

Learning doesn’t have to end when people age. In fact, today’s seniors want to remain socially engaged, intellectually stimulated, and an active part of their communities according to The American University Beirut (AUB) in  Lebanon. That’s why AUB opened The University for Seniors that gives older adults – 50 and up – an opportunity for lifelong learning.

“The goal of the program is to have a community for seniors, most of whom are retirees,” Mira Zaatari, the programs assistant manager told Al-Fanar Media. “They can stay engaged physically and mentally. Some never had the chance to join AUB in the past and they feel proud about it now.”

About the university
This university is the first of its kind in Lebanon and the entire Middle East, according to AL-Monitor. Founded in 2010 by Health Sciences PhD Abla Sibai and Cynthia Mintty, the school has about 500 enrollees every year, even during the height of the pandemic when classes were virtual. In fact, online classes allowed students from around the world to participate.

The program is open to anyone over 50, Abi Chahine, the university’s program manager told Al-Monitor. “This program aims to give moral and health support to the elderly, who, after returning to university, are the ones who give support and hope to young people and their families,” Chahine said.

The university includes two three-month semesters and students can take any class they want regardless of their educational level. There are no exams or graduation certificates. This school is all about life-long learning.

The available classes  include political science, public health, agriculture, sciences, women’s affairs, meditation, as well as creative classes in drawing, painting, and music. Language classes include English, French, and Spanish.

The classes are taught by volunteers, reported Al-Fanar Media, including AUB professors, students, and doctors from the university’s hospital.

One student, Mariam Koubaissy, 85, enrolled in drawing classes because it was her childhood dream to learn to draw, but life got in the way, she told Al-Monitor. “When I got married, I forgot about myself. I focused on my family. My dreams stopped for a while, but they never died, because I believe that dreams do not die if a person is ambitious and strong,” she said.

After years of watching students while she worked and raised her children, it was finally her turn. “Now half a century later, my dream came true and I walked through those gates,” she shared. “I remember when I reached the main entrance, I stood there for a few minutes in astonishment, not believing that it had finally happened.”

Why learning is essential for seniors
Seniors can reap a host of benefits by continuing to learn new things, according to Aging Well. That’s because life-long learning keeps the brain stimulated, challenged and fully engaged. This helps seniors remain mentally alert while they age. In fact, when people learn new things, the brain – even an older brain – can form new connections and pathways.

Keeping active physically by participating in exercise of all types including walking and yoga is also important but so is keeping social connections like taking classes, eating with other people, and taking trips together will also keep seniors physically and mentally fit.

That’s why the university provides more than just education. Former banker Youssef Bakri, 84, has been a student for over 10 years. He told AL-Monitor, “Studying is food for the brain, and among the various lectures, there are psychology lessons that support us very much at our age.”

Bakri pointed out that before the pandemic the university garden was used as a meeting place for socialization and that there were organized field trips. "We participated in many conferences and art exhibitions abroad. Every week we would visit an archeological area in Lebanon, all of which supported us very much at our age since we need care and attention.”

With the percentage of over 65s in Lebanon’s population growing and the fact that many of these seniors live alone without family members in the country, The University for Seniors is filling a very important role in the lives of its students.

Discover the World’s Most Aging-Friendly Town
This 81 Year Old Learned to Code to Create an App for Seniors
Meet the Seniors Showing That Creativity Shines Brightly at Any Age

Bonnie has dedicated her life to promoting social justice. She loves to write about empowering women, helping children, educational innovations, and advocating for the environment & sustainability.