By Xinhua Writers Yao Yuan and Gao Wencheng
CHANGSHA, Oct. 17 (Xinhua) -- Wanna feel young when your grandchildren are already in kindergarten? How about enrolling in a college that teaches you how to be a youngster?
Attending "elderly college" is in vogue at the moment in fast-aging China -- just take a look at one institution in central China's Hunan Province, whose classes on ballroom dance, yoga and how to take a selfie using smartphones are luring in legions of retirees.
At Happy Seniors University, youngsters become teachers while seniors become inquisitive students. At the same age as their teachers' parents, the elderly students are eager to learn anything that can help them live like teens and twenty-somethings.
Some have to start from the very basics. Xin Yu, a teacher with Happy Seniors, said the university's smartphone course teaches students how to text and download apps before proceeding to more advanced content like shopping online and taking photos.
"We found that many old people have the most advanced iPhones but only know how to make phone calls. They can't even send messages or take photos that are not blurry," she said.
More ambitious learners can opt for courses like catwalks and Latin dance. There is even a class that teaches senior tourists how to communicate in English when traveling abroad.
Liu Jianjian, headmaster of Happy Seniors, said since opening in 2016, more than 10,000 senior students have attended classes at their 41 branches across the central province. Booming demand is now feeding their ambition to expand to other provinces.
FLY OVER THE EMPTY NEST
China has around 60,000 elderly education institutions, according to the China Association of Universities for the Aged. Apart from those funded by governments, privately-run institutions like Happy Seniors are also cropping up, suggesting there is a huge market for elderly education yet to be saturated.
And they are expecting a bigger boost, as China's 2016-2020 development plan for elderly education has called on every city to have at least one university for senior citizens, and for 50 percent of towns and 30 percent of villages to have schools or learning centers for the elderly by the end of the decade.
Behind the later-life learning fever is a quickly aging society. China's population aged over 60 reached 241 million at the end of 2017, and the number is expected to peak at 487 million around 2050, or a third of the total population.
Though a significant number of retirees manage to keep their life busy by taking care of their grandchildren, many others are left idle in their "empty nests" as their children flock to other cities to seek better-paying jobs.
How to spend their spare time has become not only a family matter, but also a societal matter. In recent years, mahjong rooms in the name of "community centers for the aged" have sprang up in droves, city squares and parks have been invaded by "nanny dancers," and neighboring countries like Thailand and Japan have been seeing more arrivals of gray-haired Chinese tourists.
Zhao Baoquan, director of Happy Maturity, a Hunan-based newspaper for elderly readers, said the good news is that most of China's "empty nesters" are not feeling lonely, as they are actively seeking socialization.
The raging popularity of educational institutions also suggests an increase in healthy, energetic and educated Chinese seniors, thanks to rising prosperity and medical advances, Liu Hongchen, an expert on seniors at the China Volunteers Association, told Xinhua.
"The elderly universities also meet seniors' great psychological and social needs. They don't want to be marginalized and want to prove their worthiness by joining the classes," he said.
GOOD OLD STUDENTS
Feng Guangqian, 68, agrees. An active student in four music classes at Happy Seniors, Feng said that after retirement, he and his wife constantly felt the urge to learn something other than "the study of their grandchildren."
"We care more about the process than the results. Studying makes us feel much younger," said Feng, who is also the leader of the university's students' union.
Li Danyang, the Latin dance teacher at Happy Seniors, admits that most of her old students are good learners. "Old people study hard in class and practice a lot out of class. They learn even faster than small children," she told Xinhua.