Global Aging and Gerontology Education: The International Mandate

By Kunkel, Suzanne R. | Annual Review of Gerontology & Geriatrics, January 1, 2008 | Go to article overview

Global Aging and Gerontology Education: The International Mandate


Kunkel, Suzanne R., Annual Review of Gerontology & Geriatrics


Global aging is a revolutionary phenomenon that has implications for all aspects of life. Societal responses to the challenges and opportunities of an aging population require decision-makers, researchers, planners and designers, service providers, political leaders, and citizens who are educated about aging. Indeed, Aristotle advised that, "Education is the best provision for old age" (Laertius, 2008). This statement is advice for those who would have a fulfilling old age: a rich intellectual life is a valuable provision to carry on the journey to old age. But, we can generalize Aristotle's advice to suggest that education about aging is essential for thoughtful and effective societal responses to aging. To meet the need for a population educated about aging and to be better able to design policies and programs to address an aging society, academic programs in gerontology are being developed around the world.

Paralleling the unprecedented number of nations seeing growth in gerontology education is an increased value placed on global and comparative perspectives within education about aging. Gerontology programs are increasingly adding global content to their courses, and more programs than even are adding international study programs to their curricula. The prominence of international aging in the field of gerontology is reflected in the fact that two of the premier national U.S. organizations and one international organization have focused efforts on these issues. In 2007, the theme of the Gerontological Society of America's annual meeting was "The Era of Global Aging: Challenges and Opportunities"; in 2004, the Association for Gerontology in Higher Education (AGHE) organized its annual leadership conference around the theme of "Global Aging." For more than 5 years, AGHE has had an International Task Force to facilitate collaborations and partnerships to meet the global need for education and training about aging. The International Association of Gerontology and Geriatrics (IAGG) organizes a world congress every 4 years to advance research and education on aging, and to foster cross-national collaboration in these areas. The IAGG Web site provides a listing of gerontology programs around the world. The Association for Anthropology and Gerontology (AAGE) has a strong commitment to "the exploration and understanding of aging within and across diverse cultures" (Shenk & Groger, 2005, p. 6), and offers a range of resources for individuals interested in teaching gerontology from a comparative global perspective. A recent conference in Okinawa, Japan, focused heavily on the development of international gerontology curriculum, and an upcoming 2009 conference in India will include a strong gerontology education focus.

The involvement of national and international organizations and the emerging body of publications and resources to foster collaborations and facilitate teaching about international and cross-national aging reinforce the fact that gerontology is becoming a globalized field of study. Indeed, three undeniable and interrelated trends-rapid global aging and its associated opportunities and challenges, the rise in gerontology programs around the world, and the increasing internationalization of gerontology programs-speak to an international mandate for gerontology in higher education. These three phenomena are the focus of this chapter.

A brief discussion about the demographic implications of global aging sets the stage for an overview of the development of gerontology programs in different regions of the world; such programs, as responses to societal and individual aging, can support the development of culturally appropriate policies and service systems to meet needs of growing older populations and can help to prepare a work force to meet needs of aging society. The very diversity and complexity of aging experiences around the world help to make a case for the third aspect of the international mandate for gerontology and higher education: the value of incorporating cross-national content and international educational experiences within gerontology programs. …

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