27 October 2021

Building Bridges: Older Adults and the Digital Gap

By Su Sueh Ing and Chai Ching Yi 

The COVID-19 pandemic has caused significant disruptions to community activities, especially for older adultsWith the imposition of various restrictions to stop the spread of the pandemic, seniors who are less competent in digital-related activities are disconnected from the outside world. Many seniors face loneliness and prolonged isolation due to unfamiliarity in handling digital technologies and the lack of proper guidance and training. Being the least technologically savvy group in the population, digital transformation increases the risks of disruptions to this group. Moreover, with the increase of penetration of digitization to this group, the risks of online scams and cyber-security issues are proportionally in the increasing trend. 

Older adults living in these digital era can be easily overwhelmed. This is probably due to technological advancement within these devices and their applications, be it smartphones or tablets that facilitate social media, online banking, or online shopping, as well as the evident dangers of our seniors falling prey to online scams. Hence, there is a greater need to ensure they are included and not marginalized, as Malaysia heads towards digital transformation in the new world.  

In Singapore, the project ‘Seniors Go Digital’, initiated in May 2020 by Singapore Infocomm Media Development Authority, saw more than 16,000 seniors benefitting from this program by the end of 2020. Through such projects, seniors are encouraged to resume their social circle digitally, be it through WhatsApp, Facebook and video calls. With it, more families will be able to stay connected, creating a positive impact and adding value to the quality of their life. With increased digitalization among seniors through such projects, their awareness of cyber-security will also be enhanced.

With similar intentions in mind, Swinburne Sarawak and the Fondation Rolf Schnyder collaborated on a community project to ensure our seniors are not excluded in our aspiration towards building a digitally sustainable community in Sarawak. 

The Digital Technologies Seniors Program (DTSP) were designed to support seniors on their digital journey via the use of everyday digital applications. For the program, Swinburne’s Cyber Ambassadors, IT students mentored by our highly experienced academics, developed a step-by-step, easy to learn program to get these seniors started. Among the program’s objectives of cultivating inter-generational relationships while promoting digital literacy, social inclusion and community engagement, DTSP is also aligned with the objective of Strategic Action 47 of the Sarawak Digital Economy Strategy 2018 – 2022.

Through DTSP, Swinburne Sarawak aims to enhance our senior’s digital competency and readiness towards a digital economy. The program also aims to increase our society’s awareness and knowledge on cyber-security and to improve society’s resilience towards the threats of cyber-security.

The personalized coaching model that was developed for the program was also customized to empower Cyber Ambassadors in mentoring and bridging the digital gap among the target group. These ambassadors will mentor participating seniors in technology use such as smartphones, tablets and laptops while acquiring valuable skills in teaching, communication, and developing meaningful relationships with and caring for older adults.

With DTSP’s structured teaching and learning, seniors are taught on phone settings, basic photography, the use of communication tools to make video calls, voice messages and text messages, and how to ensure safety and security when conducting digital banking and online shopping, among others. The seniors are also provided with learning materials to encourage them to learn these know-hows at their own pace.

The Digital Technologies Seniors Program will be officially launched in November of this year. Through the program, we aim to play a bigger role in making this world a digitally safer and better place for the older segment of the community in Sarawak. For more information on the program, visit https://digital-seniors.com/ .

Su Sueh Ing is the Head of School for School of Foundation Studies. Passionate about inspiring young learners to be responsible citizens, she has been involved in STEAM projects in rural schools and improvement in the quality of life amongst older adults through digital technology.

Chai Ching Yi (CY) is a lecturer with the School of Foundation Studies and an experienced academician in tertiary education. Passionate about infusing positivity within the community, CY is active in raising awareness on the needs of the community.