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Singapore bridges digital divide with IT bootcamps

A senior participant learns from his 10-year old cyberguide at the North East Eldersurf Intergen Bootcamp, Singapore.
Infocomm Development Authority of Singapore
A senior participant learns from his 10-year old cyberguide at the North East Eldersurf Intergen Bootcamp, Singapore.

Newcomers to the internet are often excluded in an overwhelmingly digital age. Now, Singapore has solution for bridging this divide: Intergenerational IT bootcamps.

The bootcamp program was developed as part of the Infocomm Development Authority of Singapore (IDA) Silver Infocomm Initiative, which promotes IT awareness and literacy among the elderly. But beyond learning, the program was also about encouraging seniors to foster bonds with the young, by being engaged digitally.

The simple idea behind these bootcamps was to tap into the natural skills of Singapore's young digital natives and pair them with those from the baby boom-generation who may not have been exposed to information technology.

So far, there have been 145 bootcamps with over 3,000 senior participants through the joint efforts of IDA, grassroots organizations and schools around the island nation.

The basics were taught to seniors, such as how to use a Windows 7 computer and a mouse, as well as type on a keyboard, but it did not end there. From online banking to accessing government portals, these senior students were shown how technology could easily enrich their lives.

'Certain things that were cutting-edge have become normal or even essential in a very short space of time," said Dr Janil Puthucheary, Minister of State at the Ministry of Communications and Information and the Ministry of Education, in a CNBC interview.

"Digital inclusion is about ensuring that everyone has access to things like online information, online entertainment and online services," said Puthucheary.

The benefits of going digital are numerous, but from a societal perspective, getting senior citizens online can also help them improve interpersonal communication and relationships with their family, according to IDA.

The North East Eldersurf Intergen Bootcamp was the latest exercise in this initiative and involved ten-year olds partnered with seniors in their 60s and 70s, guiding them through five three-hour IT workshops.

One of the senior participants, Tan Chew Seng, told CNBC that he had been looking for a way to learn how to use the computer. He was recently retrenched and recognized the need to improve his employability.

Tan shared that another motive for learning IT skills was to refer to government websites and "find out if my retrenchment package was fair and according to the government's regulations."

Some of the favorite lessons for the elderly students included learning how to access on-demand entertainment to stream their favorite television programs or compare grocery prices of supermarkets online, said 10-year-old students and cyberguides Sakinah Banu and Kytiqa Hariana.

The intergenerational bootcamps are not just about the old learning from the young, but vice versa as well.

"The young can learn that there are things that come very easily to them, which may be difficult for their seniors, and that it's not actually very hard to teach the elderly new skills," said Puthucheary.

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