How inclusive is our education system with respect to age?

We have known education to be a vital infrastructure of development. The world has never functioned without education, only the mediums and scope have been advanced over time. Today’s population, whether urban or rural, know about the importance of being enrolled into a formal education system. 

Pondering upon the need for education parallelly with the inaccessibility of  people from underprivileged backgrounds to this requirement for a better life standard, a quota system in education has been in place. But has the system been effective enough to prove its utility in the overall inclusion process?

Positive Discrimination

The concept of positive discrimination is a corollary to maintenance of equity in the social life. This includes discriminating against a better priviliged sector so that the less privileged ones get a chance to be leveled up to the former’s mark.

Our society is not perfect, it has never been. The processes of unequal distribution of resources and hoarding of disproportionate quantity of resources within the ownership of uneven hands have brought us to a phase where the people face discrimination, feel humiliated for being poor and backwarded and are helpless against the expeditious competition in material advancement.

In order to resolve this issue of unbalanced social structure, attempts of imparting fairness are reflected in this system of positive discrimination that insludes the quota system or the system of reservation as one of its means.

Reservation within Education Sector

The system of reservation saves a space for people belonging to a particular community, withholding the access of the people of other communities to claim that space.

Education system also is not untouched by this positive effort to provide all with equal opportunities. A variety of minorities classified on the bases of sex, disability, economic status, race and ethnicity is recognized as classes requiring reservations in education systems.

But the system fails in the matter of reserving seats in education for the aged ones. The factor of old age is a subject of reservation only in cases of public transportation, election procedures, vaccination, and anywhere else that requires people to queue up. This is a clear indication that old people have been thought as being physically weak hence needing a support thereof but it has not occurred to the policymakers that old aged people may also be vigilant aspirants of education.

Senior Citizens in Education

It is a concept devised by the great Chinese philosopher Confucius that it is ‘never too late to learn’. Research conducted by Researchgate says that even a person of an age above 85 years has the overall system of cognition still well-functioning and that they are capable of learning and enjoying the process.

There are many reasons why a person decides to complete their formal education late in life. Family issues, social barriers, life problems, interest, health reasons, etc. could be a few restrictive impetuses. So when a senior citizen presents an interest in the process of acquiring knowledge, there should be every kind of viability provided to them.

Elderly people are also known by the labels like ‘third age people’ or ‘Senioren’. European and American countries have been forward enough in incorporating different modes of educational programs within universities for the senior citizens. There, the learning process in the older generation is regarded as an activity directed towards personal self actualization.

Following are a few special provisions relating to old aged education:

  • Access to appropriate lifelong educational and training programs is included under the ‘independence’ and ‘self-fulfilment’ clusters among the 18 principles adopted by the UN General Assembly for older persons on December 16, 1991.
  • UNESCO has moderated International Conferences on Adult Education in Elsinore (1949), Montreal (1960), Tokyo (1972), Paris (1985) and Hamburg (1997).
  • The conferences have yielded important outcomes like ‘1972  Report  of  the  International  Commission  on  the  Development  of  Education’, ‘Learning to Be: The World of Education Today and Tomorrow’, ‘1976 UNESCO Recommendation  on  the  Development  of  Adult  Education’ and ‘The Hamburg Declaration on Adult Learning 1997’.
  • ‘UN Madrid International Plan of Action on Ageing Lifelong’ has recognized education as a crucial basis for an active and fulfilling life.
  • ‘The European Agenda on Adult Learning’ emphasises on well-developed learning provisions for seniors for the promotion of active, autonomous and healthy ageing.
  • A 2002 WHO policy framework on ‘ Active Ageing’ notes education and lifelong learning as key factors to ensure health in later life.
  • The Federal Law adopted by the UAE government regarding the rights of the senior citizens in 2019 ensures the right of 60 years+ individuals to qualified education.
  • In Missouri, residents aged 65 years and above do not have to pay for tuition at state-supported institutions. Similar arrangements are made in other states of the US like Montana, Ohio, Georgia, Florida, and California with minor differences in waived fee categories and age limit.
  • Spain has developed a formal education system for her senior citizens since 1978 under three different institutions namely Classes for the Third Age, Senior Citizens University Programmes and Adult Education Centres.
  • There are special education centres in Finland for senior students operating at reasonable fees which has made a significant part of senior citizens participating in lifelong education possible.

No such exemplary provisions are in place in the context of education for senior citizens in Nepal. Article 41 of the Constitution has ensured the right to special protection and social security to the Senior Citizens from the State but such a right has not been extended to reservations or access made easy in the education field.

Facilities and concessions are provided in public vehicles’ fare, public undertakings, medical services, religious and public places in the Senior Citizens Act 2063 but the education sector  has not been addressed.


The passion for study is possible to be ignited at any phase of life and there should be enough provisions assured by law to help such determined minds achieve it. Education must be accessible to all irrespective of any factor causing differences among people like age.

Healthy ageing is also about ageing with good mental health and it has often been found that learning induces the health of the mind. Therefore, national governments, partnering with adult education providers and the civil society must come up with proper policies to ensure adult learners are equipped with appropriate opportunities, guidance, information and counselling services.

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