More and more people nowadays are becoming aware of the fact that man's activity does not end with the moment of retirement. Old age, which is the period of full adulthood and maturity, opens new horizons and opportunities. No longer bound with family and job duties, elderly people discover new values and new goals in their lives and they want to undertake tasks which they have not been able to pursue until now.
It is an undeniable fact that Universities of the Third Age have appeared in response to the new social demand. They are the very places where seniors can enjoy pursuing knowledge, belonging to the community and being still active and creative. The Universities of the Third suggest a new lifestyle in old age - seniors can not only learn, they can also totally devote themselves to activities which bring them a lot of fun and satisfaction.
Professor Halina Szwarc, the founder of the first University of the Third Age in Poland used to say that the Universities "add life to students' age". The University of the Third Age is a lifelong education institution whose fundamental objective is to assist the elderly in maintaining their mental and physical health as long as possible, in order to enable them to face challenges imposed by the rapidly changing contemporary world. For, according to the theory, the process of lifelong education puts an emphasis on personal growth, development of various skills and interests and improvement of general mental ability, whereas continued physical activity is necessary to satisfy man's biological and cultural needs and keep one active in the community.
The University of the Third Age in Jastrzębie-Zdrój was initiated in 2002. At present over 320 students participate in lectures and classes. The youngest student is 45 years old and the oldest ones are over 70, most of them are women (80%). The educational background of our students ranges from secondary level (high school) to college and university level, the secondary level students being the majority. 95% of our students are pensioners and retired workers. Before they retired, they had worked in offices and administration departments, education institutions or health care services. But the largest group among them are former mining sector employees. Our students are residents of the town and area of Jastrzębie-Zdrój.
We provide a diverse schedule of activities so that everyone can choose the most suitable items and times. However, there is one obligatory item uniting the students as the university community: a weekly lecture. Weekly lectures present a wide range of topics, suited to the needs and interests of our students. There are lectures in the field of humanities (e.g., psychology, sociology, literature, pedagogy, ethnology, ethics, philosophy) or sciences (e.g., physics, chemistry astronomy, medicine) as well as lectures or seminars in the areas which are not considered academic subjects (e.g., seminars on beauty and make-up, beekeeping or bio-energy therapy). Lectures are mainly conducted by the academic staff of the University of Silesia. We also invite prominent artists, writers, travellers, medical doctors or politicians. Among our guests were Anna Walentynowicz and Jarosław Wałęsa.
Only about one hundred students can participate in a lecture at one time so we have divided our students into two lecture groups.
In addition, a very important supplementary component of our programme are trips to the Jagiellonian University of Kraków to participate in guest lectures.
Classes conducted on a regular basis are mainly foreign language classes. At present we have five English language groups, including beginner and intermediate level groups. We also have information technology classes where our students get acquainted with basic computer skills. There are four groups, one of which is an advanced group. What needs to be mentioned here is the fact that 95% of the computer classes participants had their first encounter with the computer the moment they joined the classes at our university.
In order to expand their knowledge and get additional information, our students can also use our own university library, which is growing from year to year. We have gathered a collection of books, focusing in particular on the fields of psychology, philosophy, medicine, herbal science but one can find some good belles-lettres (literature) too.
Our students are given opportunity to display and practise their musical, poetical and dramatic talents. Some of them are active members of our choir and drama groups, preparing artistic shows to add splendour to our special events and integration meetings (opening or closing of the academic year, Christmas Eve, Women's Day or May Party). Besides, the cultural education programme of our University includes trips to see plays at professional theatres in other towns, like Katowice, Gliwice, Chorzów, Bielsko-Biała or Kraków.
Alongside the lectures on health issues and promotion of active and healthy lifestyle for the elderly, our students eagerly take part in different physical activities, such as gymnastics, swimming or QiGong.
There is also a tourist group, which frequently arranges sightseeing trips to learn about the attractions of our local area and region, or trips to visit other towns or cities, both in Poland and abroad (the Czech Republic, Hungary, Slovakia, Ukraine, Belarus).
The most active representatives of the student government and group leaders take part in the University of the Third Age national and international conferences and seminars, where important issues concerning the present tasks and future goals of the organization are discussed. Among others, meetings were held in Kraków, Warszawa,. Opole, Słupsk, Bydgoszcz, Rzeszów, Gdańsk, Katowice, Brussels (Belgium) and Wichford near Cambridge (UK).
Our students participate in student workshops. One of them, the "Seniors in Action", was held in Jadwisin near Warszawa. The objective of the workshop was to suggest ways of making use of the students' passions and interests to take actions for the benefit of others, as well to discuss intergenerational cooperation issues.
The activities of our University are supported by the cultural and entertainment offer of Jastrzębie-Zdrój Public Library, where our regular classes take place (e.g., language classes or computer classes). Our students join various forms of library events and activities, such as author's meetings, book promotions, exhibitions, concerts, literary competitions for adults or longer projects. One of such projects, "Summer Academy - We Learn All Our Life", includes activities in the form of workshops (e.g., beauty workshops, arts and crafts workshops - "Magic of Glass"), or meetings with interesting people.
Because our students have finished their professional careers, their participation in lectures and classes is a form of continuation of active life and maintaining mental and physical fitness. They find the joy of existence in engagement in their new environment, regular meetings and making new friends. Thanks to being accepted in the community, they find tremendous psychological support protecting them against social exclusion and loneliness.
It needs to be emphasized that the University is a place where the issue of volunteer mission is often discussed. For seniors it is one more area where they can feel useful to the society. They help one another, they become more sensitive to other people's needs, and at the same time they prepare themselves to deal with their own old age hardships in the future.
Therefore, the role and social significance of the University of the Third age cannot be overestimated. Its first and foremost task is to meet the needs of the older generation and promote the idea of active lifestyle and lifelong learning.
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