Besides the enduring habit of mask-wearing, Covid-19 has also managed to accelerate our digital transformation.
Over the course of two years, many of us had to break away from old habits and embrace digital life. The internet went from being an auxiliary part of our lives to becoming the nucleus in which we work, learn, shop, and communicate.
It was disruptive. But for most of us, we quickly settled into a new normal. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for our seniors.
According to an Infocomm Media Development Authority (IMDA) survey, slightly more than half (58 per cent) of the residents above 60 years old are internet users. And among internet users, the percentage using banking and ride-sharing apps remain in the low 20s.
Based on these figures, not only are close to half a million seniors at risk of being left behind in our digital revolution; but even those who use the internet are not digitally savvy enough to enrich their lives with it.
Moving towards a digital future, what is being done to equip our seniors with the necessary skills to navigate this brave new world? What are the chances of us building a digitally inclusive society where no one is left behind?
Supporting our seniors to get online
As part of Singapore’s efforts to increase digital literacy among seniors, the Seniors Go Digital programme was launched in 2020 to support the digital journey of those aged 50 and above.
Under this initiative, seniors can attend group lessons to acquire the foundational skills necessary to kickstart their learning journey. This can include getting used to a smartphone interface or understanding how apps work.
Now, while these skills are as intuitive as walking to us, they can be a steep learning curve for seniors. Therefore, seniors will need additional support to maintain their learning momentum and allay the fears they might have about using technology.
The SG Digital Community Hubs set up at designated libraries and community centres aim to do just that. At these hubs, digital ambassadors will be on hand to provide personalised, one-on-one guidance to seniors.
Next, to ensure that financial constraints do not hamper digital adoption, there are also schemes such as the Mobile Access for Seniors and Home Access Programme to provide subsidised broadband services and smartphone plans to seniors on lower incomes.
So far, results have been promising. Since its inception in 2020, over 130,000 seniors have benefited from the Seniors Go Digital programme, picking up the skills to help them communicate and transact online.
Building a digitally inclusive society
For many seniors, accessing digital services will continue to be a daunting experience. While patience and determination can help seniors overcome their fear, it is not always a lack of technical know-how that is hindering their digital adoption.
Instead, with many services available only in English, it is a case of institutionalised exclusion.
With English so widely spoken in Singapore, it is easy to forget that before 1966, English was not the de facto medium of instruction at schools. That being the case, for seniors who were educated in their Mother Tongue (Malay, Tamil, or Mandarin), English might as well be a language as foreign as Greek.
In addition, many seniors in our midst also lack formal education, are illiterate and can only communicate in dialects. For this group, the barriers to digital adoption would be even higher.
Ultimately, providing skills training and subsidising the cost of digital tools can only go so far towards building a digitally inclusive ecosystem.
More can certainly be done to ensure our seniors are able to participate meaningfully in a rapidly digitised world. For instance, all government and banking services should ideally be available in all four official languages. Looking ahead, the potential of a universal speech translator also makes the expansion of digital services to dialect speakers a future possibility.
Familial relations are another important factor in promoting digital inclusion. Getting children to help senior family members with technology can be a great way to develop intergenerational bonds. As for seniors, knowing that digital technologies can help them interact with their children and/or grandchildren more frequently is often a great motivator.
Many seniors are going to approach technology with trepidation, if not scepticism. After all, they have spent most of their lives without it and have managed just fine.
Guiding seniors out of their comfort zone and building the infrastructure to support their digital journey will be the best way towards a digitally inclusive society. Who knows? Our grandparents might become the latest TikTok sensation once they learn how to use the app.
Featured Image Credit: IMDA