By Kami Navarro
From trendy TikToks to slickly designed apps, it’s no secret that younger generations are eager adopters of all kinds of digital technologies. But it’s not just the youth too—many of the pioneers who made these technologies possible in the first place are now seasoned seniors who continue to innovate, embrace and use new technology.
Such is the case for 66-year old Mr Goh Teng Chiew, who used to work at the Centre of IT Services at Nanyang Technological University, Singapore (NTU). As the former Director of IT Operations, Mr Goh helped set up many of the systems that keep NTU’s digital services afloat.
Nowadays, Mr Goh and his 59-year old wife Ms Natalie Tan Ngah Leng—a Senior IT Manager at IT consulting company Cognizant—are paying it forward as enthusiastic Silver Infocomm Wellness Ambassadors (SIWAs). An initiative started by the Infocomm Media Development Authority (IMDA) and People’s Association Active Ageing Council (PA AAC) in 2012, over 280 SIWAs have been appointed to support and inspire their fellow seniors as they take their first steps towards the digital realm.
As we mark Volunteer Recognition Day this 20th of April, we celebrate the selfless contributions of SIWAs like Mr and Mrs Goh, as well as Ms Rokiah Ibrahim, as they help other seniors embrace technology and guide them into becoming full-fledged digital citizens. Here are their stories.
Knowledge meant for sharing
As true-blue digital natives, Mr and Mrs Goh bring with them decades of industry experience. For instance, both had graduated with university degrees in computer science and worked at the National Computer Board, IMDA’s predecessor, at one point.
The Gohs’ SIWA journey began four years ago during IMDA’s 2017 Silver IT Fest—an annual event promoting digital literacy among seniors. As members of the Singapore Computer Society, they volunteered their services as cyberguides. Shortly after, the techy twosome was quickly invited to apply for the SIWA programme.
The next year, Mrs Goh was appointed as a SIWA, with Mr Goh following in 2019—just in time to support their fellow seniors as the pandemic struck in early 2020. “[Seniors] are now discouraged to go to crowded places or attend events with too many people, so a lot of time is spent at home,” explained Mrs Goh.
“Having digital skills will make them more equipped to be entertained and aware of information they can easily retrieve on the Web.”
Each month, the Gohs support the SIWA-led workshops at the West Coast Wellness Club—teaching their peers how to order groceries at home, top-up medication online and even advanced ‘hacks’ to make their digital journeys a breeze.
“When we teach them [voice-to-text recognition], they are so amazed because they can save a lot of time,” shared Mrs Goh. Adding on, Mr Goh recalled how he had once helped a fellow senior and his wife set up the Wireless@SGx connection on their devices. “He was quite happy to know that he’d be saving on data consumption on his iPhone,” said Mr Goh.
As seasoned veterans, the Gohs hope to reassure their fellow seniors that digital literacy is a skill that can be picked up at any age.
“I will say to [seniors], need not be afraid. Just give it a try. You will enjoy the convenience and empower yourself. If you acquire more digital skills, a lot of things are just at your fingertips.”
From student to teacher
75-year old retired nurse Ms Ibrahim’s story couldn’t be more different from the Gohs. After all, she only picked up digital skills in her 60s. “I had an Android handphone and I did not know how to use it,” she recalled. “I only knew how to do basic activities like calling and answering.”
After attending a roadshow by the Council for Third Age (C3A), Ms Ibrahim discovered that the community centres offered lessons for using Android phones. Slowly, but surely, she picked up skills like navigating through Facebook as well as connecting with friends and family through WhatsApp.
With the onset of COVID-19, Ms Ibrahim was stuck indoors like many of her peers—leaving the sprightly senior restless. “I wanted to go out and meet people,” she said. Volunteering as a SIWA allowed her to make new friends and share her newfound digital skills in the process.
Still, Ms Ibrahim looks forward to absorbing more digital skills in the years to come. In fact, she considers the SIWA-led workshops at View RC as a golden opportunity to continue upgrading her own abilities as she teaches others.
“I also learn from my mistakes. If I’m not sure about something, I will register myself for a learning session,”
While the experiences of the Gohs and Ms Ibrahim are as different as night and day, the three SIWAs remain connected by a single purpose: to inspire and guide their peers as they go digital. Indeed, their examples prove that it’s never too late to pick up digital skills or share these skills with others—exemplifying the spirit of lifelong learning and volunteerism in one go.
Are you a senior passionate about encouraging others to lead a digital lifestyle? The nominations for SIWA 2021 are now open and close on 15 May 2021! Nominate yourself or a friend for the SIWA programme here. Join the SIWA family today!