By Sheryl Lee
81-year-old Mdm Teo Gek Kee was no homebody before the pandemic. Before COVID-19 hit, she had spent most of her days traipsing around the Republic in search of fun. From her two-room rental flat in Taman Jurong, she would travel across the island—going as far as Bedok and Changi in excursions that would last from 8am to 4pm.
“I used to go all over,” Mdm Teo said proudly. “I liked to walk about and find good things to eat.” Her husband had passed away ten years earlier, she explained, and she lived separately from her children. Staying home too much could get lonely. “Now, because of the pandemic, I’ve been stuck at home for a year,” she explained.
To dispel boredom and loneliness, Mdm Teo spends her time these days having phone conversations with friends, and watching videos that pop up on Facebook or YouTube on her smartphone. She occasionally scrolls through photos of past outings too. “My friends always ask me to send our outing photos over,” she said. “But they don’t know how to download WhatsApp, so they can’t receive it!”
Encouraging the elderly to digitalise
Mdm Teo wasn’t always digitally savvier than her friends. “It used to be that I couldn’t do much on my smartphone,” she revealed. Since enrolling in digital courses at the Taman Jurong Senior Activity Centre (SAC), however, she has gained newfound skills and confidence.
“Now I can do everything, and it has really lifted my spirits!” remarked Mdm Teo.
These courses form part of the whole-of-nation Digital for Life movement by the Infocomm Media Development Authority (IMDA) announced last 8 February at the President’s Challenge 2021. Building upon the momentum of many community efforts that emerged during COVID-19, Digital for Life aims to further galvanise community groups, corporates, the government and individuals to build a digitally inclusive society.
Projects and activities that promote digital technology and inclusion, as well as digital literacy and wellness will be supported through the Digital for Life Fund—the flagship for fundraising efforts under the Digital for Life movement. Through these continued efforts, it is hoped that all Singaporeans—especially seniors—will embrace digitalisation wholeheartedly and reap its benefits.
In courses like Mdm Teo’s, participants undergo personalised coaching from volunteers from corporate and youth partners including Singtel and Youth Corps Singapore. Held at SACs islandwide, the courses follow a structured weekly curriculum highlighting essential skills like Internet usage, video calls and cybersecurity—empowering seniors to be digitally connected for life.
One elderly participant present at the Digital for Life launch, 61-year-old Mr Mohd Sarif Bin Awang, said he was grateful for the initiative as it allowed him to stay connected with his friends via social media platforms during the circuit breaker last year.
“I have friends on Facebook, and can also do video calls. Last time, I didn’t know how to do these, but now it is easy for me,” said Mr Sarif.
Mr Sarif, who is mostly retired but still attends weekly massage classes, added that he now regularly video calls his friends to catch up when he is unable to attend lessons. He also uses his smartphone to read the news, and has taught his wife how to surf the internet.
Extending a helping hand
For seniors such as 64-year-old Mdm Molly Too, learning new digital skills is only the first step. Mdm Too, a senior manager at Singtel had long mastered the basics. Today, she attends digital courses not as a participant—but as a volunteer teacher under the Singtel Digital Silvers programme, which also supports the Digital for Life movement. “Usually for seniors, when they learn new skills, there’s this element of fear,” she explained. “When seniors like me volunteer, we increase their confidence. I’m an example that they can do it too,” she said.
“In these COVID-19 times, seniors must not be in isolation,” “They must be able to stay connected and have conversations with their families and friends to keep them going. Singapore is becoming more digitalised, and that could be tough for the elderly. We don’t want to leave our seniors behind.”
Empathetic volunteers such as Mdm Too have been key in helping seniors overcome challenges when picking up new digital skills, Mdm Teo shared. “The volunteers are very encouraging and patient, and I hope more seniors will go for courses as I have! Look at the elderly in countries like China, they don’t even use cash anymore and rely mainly on e-payments. We’re just starting out here but Singapore’s seniors will also get there someday.”
The Digital for Life Fund is the flagship for fundraising efforts under the Digital for Life movement. All cash donations received will be matched dollar-for-dollar by the Government.
Want to play a part in empowering all Singaporeans to participate in the digital future? Visit https://www.giving.sg/community-chest/digitalforlife for more information on how to contribute.