Posted by on March 6, 2019

Thomas Kuan comments on the article “The keys to a peaceful and prosperous Africa”

Founder, U 3rd Age (Singapore), President, East Asia Federation for Adult Education (EAFAE), Treasurer, PIMA (Friends of PASCAL)

An UNESCO Institute publication (‘Foundations of Adult Education in Africa’) in 2005 mentioned about the unnecessarily borrowing of textbook contexts from developed countries with well-established traditions of adult education (Foreword page ix). It went on to highlight the rich African indigenous knowledge such as IES (Indigenous Education Systems) and IKS (Indigenous Knowledge Systems) in Chapter 2. However, it did go on to capitalising these indigenous knowledge by encouraging older people’s education. 

Today, UNESCO’s Samuel Asnake Wollie’s wish for a peaceful and prosperous Africa by 2063 (44 years from now) is a great aspiration. However, could the timeline be reduced to reflect the urgency of the problem? The world is moving fast and in this 4IR (4thIndustrial Revolution) with artificial intelligent and political disruptions, it is changing the landscape of living and learning. Knowledge would double every 35 days because of internet and abundance of information available, and IBM predicts that information will double every 12 hours (IBM, 2006). Most information is free, but ‘time’ is not; making e-learning by AI (Artificial Intelligence), 5G-mobiles and cognitive computing machine intelligence learning becoming dominance. More people will ‘force’ to retire early, while third-age careers and vocations will become necessary with expanding life-span.

Could investments in older people’s learning be implemented as part of any initial stage of economic development? Encouraging later life learning will prevent the risk of education for children and young adults without imparting social-cultural values in sterile IT landscapes.  

China and Singapore

A look at two nations that had achieved economic success during the post-industrial period endorsed education and learning as change-makers. China and Singapore have taken within one generation of 30 to 40 years to achieve economic success in post-industrial revolution era with political will and weight. With today’s 4thIR, it may take shorter timelines to achieve economic success if desires are there. What could be some hidden reasons (or policies) behind fast-economic developments of these two countries? In one aspect, it is learning and education of adults, especially older adults. Being Asians, they have the behavioural attitude that children and young adults will follow their grandparents’ and parents’ passions in learning – for survival, and for transmission of indigenous social values and cultural philosophies. This author does not suggest that China’s and Singapore’s experience should be models for Africa, as they are not universal standards. However, any models that preserved Africa’s key social and cultural values can be trusted and applied as indigenous adult educators can be easily trained. 

Universities of Third Age (U3As)

Many paths to promote adult literacy; one way is to adopt the university of the third age (U3A) as a resource (Kuan 2018; PIMA). It is a non-formal system and community-based learning where third agers share and learn from each other, and from the intergenerational bonding. It does not require much funding from ‘Western nations’. Models of U3As worldwide can be seen from;and Africa has about seven U3As set up. There can be more models if African learning centres (with their in IKS and IES) could come together to form U3As as the Silpakorn U3A-Thailand did in 2017 by linking up 7 rural and elderly learning centres to benefit about 3,800 members ( 

By 2063                                                                                                                                  By 2063, technologies (AI, IoT, etc.) and other fields will change faces of living and learning. Nelson Mandela asserts that ‘education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world’ – to me, the function of adult education is to facilitate both the economic and cultural revolutions. It is also for older adults (especially strong and active third-agers) to impart social-cultural values and learn new skills to enable their participation in the process of change. Forty-four years from now is just a blip in history (of time), and dreams for successful African adult education may have to move fast because of changing trends. For many of us, there are not many blips left to witness the irresistible ‘lure of Africa’ (Rudyard Kipling) in adult education and lifelong learning.


IBM, 2006) – ‘The toxic terabyte – How data-dumping threatens business efficiency’; July 2006;

Kuan, 2018 – ‘Rethinking ALE – Asian Perspectives: Growing Importance of Non-formal and Informal Third Age Education’; DVV. 

Kuan, 2018 (PIMA) – ‘University of Third Age (U3A) as a Resource for Later Life Learning’ – ‘Towards Good Active Ageing For All – In a context of deep demographic change and dislocation’ – Report of the PASCAL and PIMA SIG on Learning in Later Life; December 2018. Kearns Peter & Reghenzani-Kearns Denise (editors); p 19.‘The Future of Jobs and Skills in Africa – Preparing the Region for Fourth Industrial Revolution’; World Economic Forum, May 2017. Africa Skills Initiative.

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