An 85-year-old retired math teacher who gave only his surname Ma, said he has been taking piano lessons for 15 years at a senior citizens' school on Taixing Road in Jing'an District. It's yet another learning center where applications far outnumber student slots.
"I like piano and I always loved to watch great pianists play," Ma said, "But my family was poor and I couldn't afford to take lessons when I was young. After I retired and my grandson grew up, I decided to learn piano."
With government subsidies, the tuition at schools for senior citizens is very cheap. A four-month course might cost only one or two hundred yuan (US$ 16 or 32).
Many seniors start out by enrolling in classes as a way to kill time and make friends. But once the learning bug bites, they want to complete courses through graduation.
"Before starting classes, I used to sit home and watch daytime TV," Ma said. "My son and daughter-in-law went to work and my grandson went to school. There was nobody to talk to. And whenever I tried to talk with young people, I realized I was out-of-date and becoming a stick-in-the-mud."
Classes added a whole new dimension to his life, he said.
"I have made new friends with people my age," he said. "We have common interests. It gives me a sense of belonging outside of the family, just like before I retired. I am old and it takes more time to learn. Piano is a long and persistent task for me."
Principal Chen is a strong supporter of education for the elderly. Besides learning, it gives them purpose and a social life, she said. For a while, her school was using e-cards to admit students into classrooms, but when people who weren't officially enrolled began borrowing other people's cards to attend classes, classrooms became hopelessly crowded and the system was dropped in favor of traditional room monitors.
To cope with rising demand, the municipal government is also encouraging mainstream universities, vocational schools and social organizations to cooperate in providing educational services for the aged. It wants libraries, museums, sports venues and other public facilities to focus some of their activities on serving the elderly.