Monday, March 29, 2021

EMPOWERING OLDER PEOPLE WITH DIGITAL LITERACY

 

Ageism is closing the doors of opportunity to our senior citizens. Whether it is looking for employment, getting a place in an HRDF upskilling course or applying for a bank loan to start a business, our age puts us at a disadvantage. It shouldn't.


The recent announcement in the media of the government speeding up the introduction of 5G in the country is leaving many seniors out in the cold, especially those now in their 70s and 80s. They are lagging so far behind in digital literacy that it's unlikely they will be able to participate actively in the digital economy. Many of these elderly are either single living on their own or are empty nesters.

Who is there to help these older people learn how to use the internet and get connected online for e-services? There is as yet no educational institute where they can enrol for courses on social media apps and entrepreneurial skills. What we have currently are piecemeal ad hoc workshops offered by NGOs and IT companies. These usually comprise a few hours of instruction or a one-day workshop at best. Grossly insufficient.

What we are asking for is a government-supported initiative where digital skills courses are offered throughout the year. IMDA Singapore started Seniors Go Digital in 2017. Since then more than 140,000 seniors have benefitted from this programme. But this is in Singapore. Can we have something similar here in Malaysia?

       


There is also the National Silver Academy which offers a wide range of courses including digital literacy courses. Seniors are literally spoilt for choice. Fees are affordable. Seniors can pay from their SkillsFuture Credit of S$500 given by the government to all citizens.


Seniors themselves must also be responsible for their own learning. Where there is a will, there is always a way. We have to adopt a positive attitude towards learning. This is part of the ethos of lifelong learning. There is no such thing as being too old to learn something. When an opportunity to learn something new and useful is made available to us, we should take it. We shouldn't let the fear of failing or the lack of confidence be our excuse. 

I recall in the late 1990s when teachers were told they had to start using the computer to teach, some of my colleagues opted for early retirement. They didn't want to be stressed out learning this new technology. Others took up the challenge and eventually were able to teach confidently using the computer and the projector instead of depending solely on the textbook and blackboard.


There are also many examples of successful learning when there is strong motivation to do so. The need to remain in touch with family and friends is a powerful incentive especially during the pandemic stay-home period. Hence older people have learned to use social media apps e.g. Whatsapp and Zoom. Facebook is now dominated by older users, resulting in younger people migrating to Instagram, Snapchat and Tik Tok. But aside from social media usage, seniors are still slow in making use of online services such as paying bills, booking a ride or making purchases. 


Instructors who conduct courses for seniors must bear in mind that older people learn differently from younger people. Hence, they need to be familiar with geragogy - the theory of how older people learn. For instance, seniors learn at a slower pace, and are more at ease learning with their peers than with much younger students. 


A case in point. Last month SeniorsAloud was among 29 NGOs selected from over 200 applications for a 4-week digital skills course conducted online. The objective was to help upskill NGOs and amplify their social impact. At 73, I was by far the oldest participant. The others were mostly in their 30s and 40s, including the instructors. My team mate Kamil and I took it as a challenge to learn as much as we could. The pace was fast, and the course content was demanding. Fortunately the instructors were very patient and encouraging, providing guidance at every step. We learned a lot especially how to use apps such as Canvas, Slack and Trello. Also Design Thinking and the Business Canvas Model which I had learned before but not applied. It was a good refresher. Digital knowledge needs to be applied to be of any use. It is easy for older learners to forget how to use applications after a lapse of time. 
 

The benefits of empowering seniors with digital tools are enormous. Aside from the convenience of carrying out tasks online and engaging socially online, seniors who run home-based businesses can make use of apps to promote their products or services and have the know-how to reach a wider market. 

So the ball is in the government's court. With seniors, time is of the essense. How many more years do we have to wait for a building or a sustainable programme specially dedicated to re-training and upskilling our warga emas?

(The above letter published in The Star on 13 March 2021 is accessible at this link:

Sunday, February 14, 2021

FOR THE SINGLES ON VALENTINE'S DAY


It's Valentine's Day - again. While couples young and old celebrate the day exchanging gifts and Valentine cards, my thoughts, as always, are with those who will not be sitting down to a romantic candlelight dinner. Reason: they are single. To them, I say, "Happy Single Awareness Day!" I am one of you too. No need to dread this day. Indeed, our numbers are increasing. Today being single for an older woman is no longer a social stigma. If truth be told, women in unhappy marriages envy their single sisters but they do not have the courage to break free. To the happily married ones, a toast to you on this Valentine's Day.


Unless you are married to someone wonderful, it's better to remain single. I am not putting down the institution of marriage. But I seem to be hearing more couples getting divorced than getting married, especially among older couples. Once the children are grown and flown, a couple's marriage is put to the test. Retired couples, in particular, find that being in each other's company 24/7 can either rekindle the old flame of romance and passion, or it can extinguish forever the last embers of a dying marriage.

Which one are you? There's a third one - being single and NOT available. 

It takes a lot of effort, compromise even sacrifice to keep a relationship going. Many young couples don't have the patience to work at it. Gone are the days when wedding vows were taken seriously and couples remained married 'till death do us part'. Even after death, the bereaved spouse stayed faithful to the memory of the dearly beloved. Second marriages were almost unheard of, as were divorces. Indeed, to ask for a divorce would be akin to asking to be ostracized.

Today on Valentine's Day, I dedicate the day to my parents. I remember them as a very loving couple. As a child, I used to listen with fascination to the love stories my mother told me about how my father wooed her. Their courtship days were like chapters taken from a Barbara Cartland novel. My father simply adored my mother, and spending time with her was something he treasured as we saw him only during the weekends. His work as a medical sales representative often took him outstation and away from the family.

My father treated my mother like she was a fragile porcelain doll. He was always eager to please her and make her happy. My mother bore him six children during their 10 years together. I was the eldest. My youngest sister never got to see my dad for he passed away in 1957 after a short period of illness. My mom was heavily pregnant with her sixth child when my dad left her - forever.

My parents - Annie Goh Kwee Foung and Jackie Fu Fook Im (1947)

My mother will be 94 this October. She has never remarried, and has remained a widow all these past 62 years. I am sure she still misses my father, that is, on days when she can remember, when her mind is clear, and her memory is sharp. For my mom has Alzheimer's. The other day when I showed her this picture of my dad and her, I asked if she knew who the couple was. Without any hesitation, she said 'That's me and that's your father. But he's gone now. He was very good to me.'

Whether you are single, married, divorced or widowed, today is the day we celebrate LOVE. We should be celebrating love every day, in the little things we do, for the people we love. Love doesn't have to cost a cent. Love can be a genuine smile, a warm hug or an affectionate kiss. Or a good deed for someone we don't know but who needs our help.

Spread a little love today, and every day.

HAPPY VALENTINE'S DAY, EVERYONE!



(This post is updated from an earlier one posted on Valentine's Day 2019. It is also posted in memory of my beloved mother who left us 10 days ago on 3 Feb 2021. She would have turned 95 in Oct this year.)