From cyberbullying to monetary scams and even porn addiction, it often seems that cyberspace is a dangerous place to be.
Mr James Tan, Chief Executive Officer of TOUCH Community Services (TOUCH), however believes that the online world can be a place of good – if people have boundaries in place and learn how to navigate risks appropriately.
That’s what TOUCH aims to achieve by helping people of all ages harness digital tools and technology to enrich lives.
Navigating the Digital Journey
Spearheading this effort to champion cyber wellness and new media literacy in Singapore is TOUCH Cyber Wellness (TCW), a service of TOUCH. An award-winning and leading pioneer since it was started in September 2001, TCW began with plans to develop strategies that advocate for balanced and respectful usage of digital technology for children, parents, and educators.
Through TCW’s programmes, and that of TOUCH’s 22 other Services, a strategic pillar of TOUCH’s vision on ‘Enabling Communities’ is fulfilled.
Mr Tan explains the thinking behind it, “we didn’t want to go with ‘empower’ as the word connotates a top-down approach when helping someone. We find that ‘enabling’ others allows us to walk alongside our beneficiaries in their journey to provide the necessary help and resources they need to thrive and succeed.”
This vision remains at the heart of TOUCH’s services and programmes as it enables children, youths-at-risk, families in need, seniors, and persons with special or healthcare needs to grow, participate, and contribute to the community.
Looking back at the start, Mr Tan points out that the digital landscape then was very different, “At that time, not everyone had easy access to the internet or smart devices, and people engaged face-to-face, instead of on social media.”
In the last decade, things have changed immensely. The evolving shifts in trends and advancement of technology has impacted a new generation of users. While the internet brought about more connectivity, the constant barrage of information and access to the lives of others on social media fuelled mental health issues. TOUCH started seeing more cases of anxiety, depression, and cyberbullying related to excessive device usage and social media use.
Others, especially seniors and lower-income families, faced isolation as services and interactions moved online. The pandemic also made the digital divide between these groups and those who have access to technology, more pronounced.
Reflecting this mindset for TOUCH’s services to be constantly refreshed to be relevant to the community’s needs, the organisation introduced new partnerships and programmes to help the community navigate the digital age effectively, safely, and responsibly.
Programmes were organised for parents and children to holistically address the digital gap by enabling lower-income families to navigate the digital space
Supporting seniors on their digital learning journey
Since June 2019, TOUCH had partnered with social media giant, Meta, to introduce a community programme for seniors, ‘Digitally Ready Seniors’ (DRS), for those aged 50 and above, to learn about essential digital tools. Through themed modules, the seniors also acquired important cyber-related knowledge to help them go online safely and securely and learn how to discern false information.
Mr Chew Poh Ngee was one of the participants of DRS. The 73-year-old was excited to take the advanced module offered so that he could expand on what he already knew. The lesson on how to use the Mytransport.sg app proved to be useful as it would help him get around with ease. Mr Chew shared that the workshop gave him confidence, and that he is open to support his peers in their learning too.
On DRS, Mr Tan says the programme had a good head start before the pandemic hit. “I’m glad that we started DRS to help our seniors. We have acquired experience over the years to engage seniors well and help them navigate the online world safely.
In 2020, when (Singapore) was in lockdown, we could migrate our programmes online so that our seniors could continue to be engaged. If they didn’t know how to do that, or connect with others digitally, the effects of the lockdown would have been challenging.”
Mr Chew practising and applying how to search for bus services and routes during a session on Mytransport.sg app, with the help of volunteers.
Seniors acquiring cyber-related knowledge with the help of TOUCH staff and volunteers
Volunteers as assets which complement TOUCH’s work
TOUCH has been able to extend its reach in the community, because of committed volunteers like Mr Alan Andrew Dias and Ms Shruti Julka, who have been involved with the ‘Digitally Ready Families’ (DRF) programme.
The DRF programme is a digital-readiness programme to provide lower-income families with essential digital life skills. The modules, designed by TCW, also focus on parent-child communication which plays an integral part to good management of children’s device use
Reflects Mr Tan, “we have observed that more people are spending time on their digital devices during the pandemic. The focus has now shifted from providing people with digital devices, to providing help with device usage.
We believe that parents must take the lead in fostering a good digital culture at home. Parents need to know how to communicate with their children effectively to understand them, impart good values and shape their behaviours.”
Some of these DRF mentoring sessions took place online because of restrictions on in-person meetings during the pandemic, bringing a new set of challenges for the volunteers. Despite facing challenges such as tech issues, internet connectivity and at times, inattentive parents, they soldiered on to meet their goals.
“The experience has been enriching. The beneficiaries learnt useful skills on parenting, well-being, with many realising the importance of spending time with their children and setting boundaries. Many also learnt how to leverage on technology to work, connect and communicate,” says Mr Dias, 61, who first started volunteering in 2020.
Meanwhile, Ms Shruti, 32, encourages others to consider signing up as a volunteer as she found herself benefitting just as much as the participants. “I have spent four to five hours a week during DRF runs. The sessions were educational, insightful, and interactive. I have never experienced such energy and enthusiasm from volunteers to make a difference. The mission and purpose are clear, and the management was well organised.”
Even as TOUCH has “moved upstream” to engage with seniors and families, Mr Tan also highlights that the organisation must continue to update its programmes regularly to remain relevant so that it can serve the community well. This is necessary now, given how digital connectivity and access to smart devices will be as common in Singapore as having water and electricity.
“We should make access to digital devices a non-event,” says Mr Tan, pointing out how the pandemic accelerated the adoption of technology for all age groups.
“There’ll always be new challenges on the ground, so we must be ready to equip all age groups to go online confidently.”
There are many ways you can get involved with TOUCH or get your own project going:
- To volunteer with TOUCH, find out more at TOUCH. If you wish to volunteer for ‘Digitally Ready Families’, email:firstname.lastname@example.org, attn to DRF Team
- Inspired to help others in your community go digital but don’t know where to start? We’re here to help. Find out more at https://www.imda.gov.sg/digitalforlife/Get-Started