Teachers can help dispel older worker myths

Kerri Carr

Susan Ryan: intergenerational cooperation.

Teachers have a powerful role to play in ridding society of age discrimination, Age Discrimination Commissioner Susan Ryan told Council on March 15.

“As teachers, you are one of the most important forces in bridging the generational divide. One of the greatest opportunities we have in combatting age discrimination is to shape and mould the understandings of future generations,” Ms Ryan said.

She said teachers had done powerful work in vital areas of culture change in the past. “The inclusive and respectful attitudes you develop in your pupils will help transform our society into a better one.”

Ms Ryan said a recent Australian Human Rights Commission research report, Fact or Fiction: Stereotypes of Older Australians, showed perception was at the heart of age discrimination: “Prejudiced views see all older people as forgetful, short tempered, rigid and backwards looking. Many see ageing as an inexorable process of decline, towards the inevitable result that older people become a burden, a loudly resented drain on resources.”

“Recent research by Monash University and the Australian Institute of Management (Queensland and Northern Territory) indicates that older workers may bring specific management skills and crystallised intelligence — intelligence based on knowledge acquisition and experience — whereas younger managers may have higher levels of fluid intelligence — basic or abstract reasoning ability. The researchers found no statistically significant difference between the capacities of older and younger managers, and concluded that both age groups contribute equally to the workplace, although possibly in different ways,” she said.

“Contrary to common belief, factual research shows that older workers are equally committed to their jobs and just as capable as their younger counterparts; in fact, they complement each other to build a more efficient and productive workplace. The most successful workplace is the one characterised by intergenerational cooperation,” she also said.

Ms Ryan made reference to the teacher shortage. She said approaches to retain and recruit older teachers were “overlooked and underdeveloped”.

“Providing more part time work, or allowing for the retirement process to be phased in gradually while ensuring job security and continuing benefits are examples of productive policies which enable older teachers to continue to contribute and participate,” she said.

Pitch to raise awareness on age discrimination