Last updated: 13 March 2023

Published on: 07 April 2016


The North East Eldersurf Intergen Bootcamp showed that age is no barrier to learning or teaching IT skills.

In the Rivervale Primary School computer lab, some students were staring intently at the instructor, before turning their attention to their computer screens while getting a little help from their friends. 

MOS Janil

Dr Janil Puthucheary, Minister of State, Ministry of Communications and Information, joined in the training at the North East Eldersurf Intergen Bootcamp.

But this was no ordinary lesson.

It was the North East Eldersurf Intergen Bootcamp, and the students were all senior citizens being helped by 10-year-old Rivervale pupils. 

For this last phase of a five-month programme involving 17 schools and more than 370 seniors, 29 Primary 4 pupils were paired with 24 seniors who wanted to jump into the digital arena. 

Over five three-hour sessions, the elders learned how to turn on their computers, access the Internet, email, surf websites, and use social media.

As a final hurrah, they even designed and printed Thank You cards for their cyberguides who had journeyed digitally with them.

Instant adoption

Mr Tan Chew Seng put some of his newly-acquired skills to use right away. 

The 63-year-old had been recently retrenched when he heard of the course through his wife. 

They attended together, and he quickly learnt enough to surf manpower websites to check if his retrenchment package was fair.

Mr Tan

Mr Tan Chew Seng (left, with his cyberguides and Mr Charles Chong): I’m not so scared of the computer now, at least I know the basics.

And he was quick to suss out other deals as well. “I can find out what is cheaper - the prices at NTUC or Giant. Last time I didn’t know!”

In his previous job as a store-planner, he had used a computer, but his exposure to its functions was severely limited. “It was very fixed – just a few buttons and you pressed ‘yes’ or ‘no’. Now it’s totally different.” 

The course has made Mr Tan more confident in his job-hunt. “I’m not so scared of the computer now – at least I know the basics.”

Another participant, Madam Lee A Kean was the oldest in the cohort at 77. She had been attending a course on folding paper flowers at the community centre when she learnt about the computer course. 

“My grandchildren are big, and I have more time,” she explained in Mandarin, “and I like to learn things."

So she learned to stream videos on Toggle, among other skills, and is now mulling over her options on how to retain her surfing expertise. The resourceful grandma is planning to use her mobile, and was asking about Wireless@SG. 

“It’s good to get on the Internet and find things,” she said.

Having attended with some friends, she says they are now considering keeping in touch via social media.

Bonding across generations

The bond between Madam Lee and her “little angel” was obvious as they held hands while walking up to get her certificate of completion from Dr Janil Puthucheary, Minister of State, Ministry of Communications and Information and Ministry of Education.


MOS Dr Janil Puthucheary (right) with Mr Charles Chong, presenting the Bootcamp's certificate of completion to Madam Lee A Kean. Her cyberguide got one too!

Dr Janil was glad to see the two generations interacting, and the ease with which the youngsters shared their knowhow with the seniors. 

“The idea of the intergeneration relationship is very much at the centre of what would be seen as the normal Singapore process. The children find IT very natural and easy. Through the bootcamp they can understand how difficult it is for the seniors to learn about what is very routine in their lives.”  

Punggol East Member of Parliament, Mr Charles Chong, observed that a huge positive of the bootcamp was that it bridged the generation gap. 

“It’s not just learning a skill for its utilitarian value,” he said. 

Concurring, Dr Janil said, “Even as we invest in innovative tools and technology, how do you make sure that everybody has access to the information, entertainment and services? It’s part of the digital inclusion process.”

Perhaps the biggest beneficiaries were the young cyberguides, who got insights into teaching and communicating with the elderly, in addition to getting little treats like sweets from their seniors.

“I was surprised to know that it was her first time using the computer as I thought computers are a common thing,” admitted Kwan Zhen Foon. 

Kytiqa Hariana had to bridge a language gap as well as a generational one. 

“I used gestures such as pointing or signalling to the seniors on how to use the computer when the trainer was teaching. At times, I asked my Chinese friends to help me translate. After one or two sessions, we were able to communicate using simple English and some hand gestures. 

"I am surprised to know that I am able to guide an elderly, and it is not that difficult after all.”

Making the teaching process easier was the enthusiasm of the learners themselves, which inspired cyberguide Sakinah Banu. 

“The seniors were all very keen to learn, and their eagerness to learn surprises me and motivates me to be like them!” she said.