Seniors being guided by their grandchildren or student volunteers
Since 2010, 62 schools have co-organised 100 bootcamps
ROBERT Low, a 66-year old retiree and an active member of the Residents Committee at his government housing block, is no stranger to computers. But when offered a chance to attend an IT bootcamp in Singapore organised for senior citizens, he jumped on the opportunity.
Speaking to Digital News Asia (DNA) during a media tour of the bootcamp, Low enthused, “After this session, I will go home and teach my wife so she can learn all the basics; she will probably gain quite a bit.”
Community workshops to help the aging population get familiarised with computers are not new, but this particular series, dubbed ‘Intergenerational IT Bootcamp,’ adds a familial twist.
During the six-day workshop, which kicked off on March 16 at 13 schools, the seniors sit together with their grandchildren and student volunteers aged between 10 and 16, who guide them along the lesson.
Organised by the Infocomm Development Authority of Singapore (IDA) in collaboration with the People’s Association (PA) and participating schools, this bootcamp, now in its fifth year, saw a record number of more than 420 participants.
The People’s Association was established in 1960 to promote racial harmony and social cohesion in Singapore, and has a network of 1,800 grassroots organisations, over 100 community clubs, and more.
The workshops, conducted in English and Mandarin, cover a range of skills such as how to use the computer and surf the Internet, as well as lessons on e-health and cyber tips to remain protected online.
The Intergenerational IT Bootcamp is part of IDA’s Silver Infocomm Initiative (SII), which aims to help senior citizens pick up basic IT skills and applications in a convenient and friendly environment.
Vivien Leong, a 69-year old retiree, explained why she signed up. “There is always something new with computers, so it’s a lifelong learning process.
“If you are not in touch with computers for a while, you can get lost. Having the children to mix around with the elders, we can also share our views and our knowledge,” she said.
IDA managing director Jacqueline Poh (pic above) noted that “many members of our ‘Pioneer Generation’ tell us that they want to pick up essential digital skills in order to communicate with their friends and families.”
“We figured that one way for them to get over their anxieties around technology is to ask their grandchildren or other family members to help teach them,” she added.
With Singapore’s plans to extend the re-employment age to 67 in two to three years’ time, such initiatives would also potentially provide older workers with the new skills necessary to be hired for higher value jobs.
“We can learn to use Excel and PowerPoint, to do presentations and be more productive, and as far as you are active, you can still carry on to work – and if you have the right working attitude, any organisation can welcome you,” Leong commented.
Since 2010, a total of 62 schools have co-organised 100 bootcamps and reached out to some 2,000 pairs of seniors and students.
The bootcamp also aimed to give students the opportunity to act as cyberguides, using their IT knowledge to help and bond with senior citizens.
Celine Ong, a 53-year old administrative officer, observed, “I think it’s interesting because it encourages students to speak up and get to mingle with senior citizens like us.
“Initially they keep quiet, but after a while they are very happy and that is more important. It also builds up their confidence,” she said.
70-year old retiree Peggy Ong agreed. “At least they get to know us, and we know how they feel about us seniors.”
Referring to her own student guide, she said, “He’s very shy but now he’s opened up, and he said that we know more than them!”
In 2012, the Intergenerational IT Bootcamp project was awarded the International Innovation Award, the highest accolade for the ‘Innovations in Citizen Engagement and Dialogue’ category by the Commonwealth Association for Public Administration and Management for its contribution to public service.
“It is heartening to see so many seniors embracing IT and using this bootcamp as an opportunity for family bonding,” said IDA’s Poh.
“We hope they can an inspiration to other seniors to embrace all things digital,” she added.
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