Students and seniors bridge the digital divide

An intergenerational program at St George Girls High School is building community ties and digital skills between young and old. Linda Doherty reports.

A man and a girl looking at a computer while sitting at a desk. A man and a girl looking at a computer while sitting at a desk.
Image: Aresha Haque and Fred Robinson at St George Girls High School.

Year 10 student Aresha Haque is teamed up with Fred Robinson, 76, for her school’s regular technology sessions with senior citizens where the young teach the old – and vice versa.

Mr Robinson, a former computer programmer, is trying to extract photos from an SD card and is brainstorming solutions with Aresha.

“He asks me a lot of difficult technical issues,” Aresha said.

“I really love talking to the older people because they have such amazing stories. Mr Robinson told me today that the only ocean he hadn’t crossed was the Atlantic.”

Christine Riley, 75, arrives at the sessions at St George Girls High School in Kogarah with a list of tasks in her notebook she needs help with. Student Nushrat Tasnova, also in Year 10, said she’s inspired by the older woman.

“She is still learning at her age and that’s really inspiring to see that no matter how old you are, you can still keep learning,” Nushrat said.

An added benefit of the intergenerational program, run in conjunction with Kogarah Community Services, is the students’ increased interaction with senior citizens as many of their grandparents live overseas or have passed away.

The grandparents of both Nushrat and Aresha live in Bangladesh.

Aresha’s grandmother is visiting Australia for a year, teaching her granddaughter the Bengali language and culture, while Aresha helps solve her tech issues. “She uses technology in a very different way to me,” Aresha said.

St George Girls High School principal Betty Romeo said the students learn from the senior citizens, too.

“Through their conversations and engagement, our students are learning about history and different experiences and how technology has changed,” she said.

“They are so patient and respectful. It’s lovely to see the interaction.”

Student Support Officer Lauren Pereira said the focus of the wellbeing initiative was to bridge the digital divide for older people.

“Students enjoy their interactions with the senior citizens and are pleasantly surprised by the enthusiasm they have to upskill and learn new technology,” she said.

“The students might show the senior citizens how to use email, access the internet, work out passwords, put a device on silent and move photos into Google Drive.”

Up to 40 Year 10 students at St George Girls High volunteer for the intergenerational program, often meeting the senior citizens in their lunch hour. Kogarah Community Services runs similar programs in other local public primary and secondary schools and preschools.

Another group of St George Girls High School Year 7 students were last week involved in Get Online Week, the annual digital inclusion campaign run by charity Good Things Foundation.

The students helped over 55s living at home in the Kogarah area create a digital life story at Kogarah Community Services.

Good Things Foundation CEO Jess Wilson said digital skills were a necessity for all Australians, regardless of age. The charity’s research shows that 70 per cent of people aged over 65 struggle to keep up to date with technology.

“So many aspects of our lives now happen online with our research revealing that 86 per cent of Australians use the internet to pay bills or bank online, while over half use it to access government and health services,” Ms Wilson said.

A woman and a girl look at a tablet while sitting at a desk. A woman and a girl look at a tablet while sitting at a desk.
Image: Christine Riley arrives at the sessions at St George Girls High with a list of tasks in her notebook for Year 10 student Nushrat Tasnova to help her with.
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