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At 67, most people might not know how to use the computer or at best, have a handle on the basics. Cheow Chin Wang is not just proficient in computer-skills, she’s also a volunteer trainer for RSVP Singapore and its Cyberguide programme, teaching other seniors essential IT skills.

As Singapore makes its push towards becoming a Smart Nation – an endeavour that has just been given a boost following its address by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong in his National Day Rally – the fear of seniors struggling with technology has become real.

Here’s where people like Cheow come in: to help other seniors ride the technological wave.

Cheow is herself a beneficiary of the programme. She is a more advanced version now of what she was 10 years ago when she registered for the course. Back then, she used to run a Chinese medical shop and there was no need to know how to use a computer. She didn’t even have a handphone as she was always contactable via the shop’s landline.

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Cheow Chin Wang at the Silver IT Fest. Image source: RSVP Singapore

However, during her post-retirement years, she tried to apply for an administrative position that required computer skills and realised that she had to upgrade her skills. That’s when she applied to the Cyberguide programme.

The grandmother of four was able to use her new skills to help her grandchildren with their online school work when they were younger.

Today, Cheow is a full-time volunteer with RSVP Singapore – a non-profit organisation that actively engages seniors in purpose-driven volunteerism; and a trainer with their Cyberguide programme. An achor programme of RSVP since 1998, Cyberguide aims to promote IT skills among seniors and help them overcome the digital divide.

The programme saw 1,381 participants last year and has 90 volunteers currently.

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A Cyberguide trainer teaching a class. Image source: RSVP Singapore

As their trainers are from the silver generation, some have actually gone through similar experiences, such as learning basic IT skills from scratch or getting used to a smartphone. This helps them relate to the problems their students face and also helps them to be more patient.

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Cheow had absolutely no knowledge of computers when she took the course in 2007. Recalling her struggle, she said: “There were a lot of challenges. (From things like) using a mouse, understanding computers, and how to use a website; it was quite a challenge.”

Nevertheless, she persisted and prevailed, and now feels inspired to give back by helping other seniors. “I (have been in that situation) so I know what the seniors will face. Having had first-hand experience, I can understand where they come from,” she explained.

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Cheow with her Cyberguide class. Image source: RSVP Singapore

What may appear simple to many – like moving the text cursor to the next line or using a mouse properly – are a challenge to people her age, she explained.

“Everything is so new and there’s so much information. And to young people, it’s never a problem at all,” she said.

During her early days on the computer, she once accidentally deleted the wrong file and caused her computer to crash. Now, as a trainer, she sees herself in her students – especially those who are afraid to “click here and click there”. This hampers their ability to learn more on their own as their fear prevents them from exploring.

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Fellow trainer Noorjahan Kamaruddin, 57, also notices a similar fear in students, especially those who don’t own a computer at home and are not able to practise.

“Fear is the greatest challenge for them,” she said. And it becomes a bigger problem when the younger family members get impatient with them.

Noorjahan explained: “Instead of teaching them and guiding them, they will do it for them. So, the seniors may have Facebook app on their phone but they do not know their own login details or how to access it because their children or grandchildren installed it for them.”

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The trainer giving a participant some guidance. Image source: RSVP Singapore

She believes that it’s easier for seniors to learn when they are allowed to practise instead of having someone do it for them. That is, in fact, the approach for her courses: She lets them practise.

She said: “I tell my assistant trainer to have a more hands-off approach and help only when they are stuck and ask for assistance. Otherwise, I will tell them what to do, guide them and make them practise.”

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She feels the whole concept of “seniors helping seniors” further helps by creating a safe place for students to feel comfortable learning and making mistakes.

However, it’s not enough to just attend these courses and complete them successfully. Noorjahan’s advice to seniors is to constantly practise these skills. She said: “Some of them may not have a computer but we do provide practice sessions for them at a fee of $2 if they are a member. There will also be a facilitator to help them if they are stuck.”

“There must be constant practice. It’s the same thing for me. Every day I practise and if I’m stuck with something, I ask somebody for help or I Google it,” she advised.

While picking up basic IT skills is just a start, these seniors will eventually need to progress further when our country transitions into a cashless economy.

Cheow said: “I think that will be a bit of a challenge to the elderly. I don’t think it’s something that is achievable in a short time.”

And she will no doubt be at the forefront to help them adjust, when the time comes.

To find out more or to register for RSVP Singapore’s Cyberguide programme, click here.