Yeo Beng Choon cannot imagine her retirement without a smartphone.
In 2015, she came across an advertisement by RSVP Singapore, a non-profit organisation which engages senior volunteers to serve the community. That was how the 69-year-old, who retired from her accountancy job at a shipping company, started assisting a series of IT classes run by seniors for seniors.
When Beng Choon first started, she could only assist a class on the iPad — a gadget she knew little about. It was after one year in this role that she started teaching independently, about Samsung smartphones, of which she now still carries.
Her typical class covers a few of the phone’s capabilities and instructions on how to use them. On the day we met Beng Choon, she was teaching her class how to create a phone contact, a photo album, and a group chat on Whatsapp. When there’s time, she throws in a bonus lesson on a useful mobile application. To confident smartphone users, these skills seem basic or even intuitive. But Beng Choon knows functions that even the tech savvy are clueless about. We, for one, have been using The Straits Times app for years but never knew it could read the day’s news aloud. “It’s for people who can’t see well,” she says. “You young people don’t need this function so you don’t make use of it.”
While the computer literate are disabled by what they know, she is enabled by what she doesn’t.
“I touch all the buttons to find out what they do,” she says, and proclaims there’s nothing to worry about since “the phone will not explode”.
Not all seniors think like her. Those who resist technology often express fear — of making irreversible changes on their phone that they may later regret, or getting lost in the labyrinth of the World Wide Web. Beng Choon’s solution? The reset button.
Her willingness to explore the unknown reveals a resource that unfortunately not everybody has — an IT support team consisting of her children and grandchildren. Their patience towards her queries that came in text, calls, and over dinners, turned the chirpy lady emotional when she volunteered a shout out of gratitude: “I appreciate them for being my sons.”
Since becoming a trainer, Beng Choon has pursued other IT skills to be a more accomplished Cyberguide; they range from something as simple as sending emails to something as complex as computer maintenance. The latter came about because she wanted to help clean up RSVP’s computers after lessons. She is also undergoing an Advanced Certificate in Training and Assessment (ACTA) course that teaches educators how to deliver better training. “Patience, she says, is key.
Besides picking up IT skills, Beng Choon also found a good friend at RSVP, a fellow trainer whose iPad class she assisted in. When not volunteering, the duo travel overseas together. So eventful are their lives now that when asked how she would imagine her retirement without IT, Beng Choon simply can’t. “I’m occupied,” she says.
Pausing to look around the computer room where she teaches, she says, “I’m very relieved that this is how I’m spending my time.”
Beng Choon’s recommended Apps for Seniors
Google Translate (Android & iOS devices)
You may know this app translates text you highlight on your phone, but what about text in images — those in the photo album and live photos through the camera? Beng Choon uses this app to translate signboards in foreign languages when she’s on a holiday.
The Straits Times and Lianhe Zaobao (Android (ST,ZB)& iOS (ST, ZB)devices)
These local newspapers can read the news aloud to you. Beng Choon suggests this for those who wish to strengthen their language skills while keeping up with the current affairs. You may adjust the speaking speed to your comfort level.
As we prepare Singapore for the digital economy, we need to ensure that everyone, including the elderly, continue to contribute meaningfully to society, stay actively connected with their family and the community, and not be left behind in our digital society.
Find out more about the Infocomm Media Development Authority’s Silver Infocomm Initiatives here. From Intergen IT Bootcamps to Silver Infocomm Juntions, there’s something for everyone.