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How family members can help seniors improve digital literacy
By ZALINA MOHD SOM | 08 Oct 2023

MALAYSIA is an ageing nation. Coupled that with the prevalence of technology in daily life and the society is facing another set of problems on top of treating diseases, degeneration and quality of life often linked to an ageing society.

Digital literacy is becoming more important for seniors but unfortunately, they are often excluded in the development of online products. Their lack of knowledge combined with good financial standing therefore, make them easy target for online frauds and scams.

It was reported that at least RM2bil was lost due to financial scams in Malaysia between 2019 and 2022. And only last month, a senior aged 62 years old lost RM1.4mil when she became the victim of a phone scam.

Universiti Sains Malaysia (USM) senior lecturer Dr Tan Yun Yi says although the media and authorities are already playing their roles in creating awareness on scams and frauds, family members have a critical role to play in preventing this from happening to the seniors in their families.

“Family members spend more time together and have a more trusting relationship to educate and prepare their seniors,” Tan says.

She adds there are ways to effectively educate and provide awareness to seniors. “It is also important to let them know that they could still be scam victims despite their knowledge about scams, and it could happen to anyone regardless of age group,” says Tan, who founded Silver Lab, USM’s senior technology workshop.

Established in 2019, it organises digital inclusion initiatives and promote lifelong learning among seniors.

Senior living residence Domitys Bangsar Kuala Lumpur operations manager Genevieve Willie says family members could also help seniors by setting up secure online accounts with strong passwords. “They should also advise seniors never to share personal information or financial details with anyone,”

Tan says family members spend more time together and have a more trusting relationship to educate and prepare seniors. — TAN YUN YI
Tan says family members spend more time together and have a more trusting relationship to educate and prepare seniors. — TAN YUN YI

Sceptical senior

Being an ex-banker with over 30 years of experience, it is no surprise that Dr Rema Prabakaran’s father, Prabakaran Mukundan, 79, is wary of online banking transactions although he has now reluctantly given in to online services.

Rema (left) and her father, Prabakaran (third from left) in a family photo. Roshan (second from right) and Riya (far right) help their grandfather with his mobile phone issues. — REMA PRABAKARAN

“A conversion of parking fee payment from physical parking ticket to online made him do a U-turn back home. If you see him cruising around Petaling Jaya new town in a navy blue Kelisa, understand that he’s trying his best to navigate these new, slightly intimidating technology advances,” she says.

Rema says the younger members of the family would sometimes help him make online transactions like paying his bills but he still prefers the human element and a physical receipt.

“He says it is easier for him to track his payments than accessing soft copies. We try to remind him that we’re helping the environment by saving paper,” adds the 44-year-old orthodontist from Shah Alam.

Airline employee Hamdan Mohamad and his siblings have their hands full in managing their parents’ online banking and unit trust accounts.

“They refuse to handle their banking accounts online and leave it all to us, their trusted children,” he adds.

Tan says there are several factors that could affect seniors’ online experience, which range from physical limitation (poor eyesight), anxiety, unstable internet access and preference for human interaction.

Mohamad and Halimah with their grandchildren. — HAMDAN MOHAMAD
Mohamad and Halimah with their grandchildren. — HAMDAN MOHAMAD

Give seniors a choice

Hamdan says seniors should be given the option to transact online or offline. “I believe the option should be not only for seniors but everyone. Total dependence on technology can be disastrous,” he adds.

Rema adds that we can’t rule out that human interactions at public offices, financial institutions and even hospitals have their own magic. “A simple ‘good morning’, bumping into a friend or the interaction over a counter with an employee can sometimes be the day’s highlights.”

“Online transactions certainly lack these social interactions, which not only retirees but a Gen-X member like me, appreciate,” she adds.

Tan agrees that a good balance of digital and non-digital interactions could provide flexibility to consumers to choose which one works best for their situation.

However, in situations where there is no such option, she says service providers should consider providing strong customer support and ample resources for seniors to learn how to use such online services.

“Can service providers ensure that all their customers have equal access to their services if they are migrating all online?” Tan asks.

“Based on my experience working with seniors, I see that they value the social aspect of in-person transactions and offering choices ensures inclusivity of all age groups,” Genevieve says.

Genevieve says seniors prefer face-to-face transactions and providers should consider giving them that option. — GENEVIEVE WILLIE
Genevieve says seniors prefer face-to-face transactions and providers should consider giving them that option. — GENEVIEVE WILLIE

Text and browse

Hamdan’s parents, Mohamad Salleh, 73 and Halimah Ali, 74, are not shy when it comes to social media applications like Facebook and WhatsApp.

“They each have a smartphone and they browse Facebook and WhatsApp frequently. They both share a Facebook account, which I personally manage,” Hamdan says.

He says his mother is mostly a silent reader but would absorb every information shared in the family WhatsApp group. She would then share the summaries at the dinner table, while his father is more responsive with some short acknowledgements like “Okay” and “Amin”.

“My mother would send a two-minute voice note to the group but all you could hear is silence. Her more savvy husband, whom we appointed as the family group administrator, would add some of his friends from the mosque into the group,” he says.

Dr Rema says her two tech-savvy children – Roshan, 16, and Riya, 15, – become her father’s go-to-persons whenever he has mobile phone issues ranging from storage and data to his next WhatsApp profile photo.

“My father enjoys sending and receiving forwarded greetings, news reports and videos, and these take up large chunks of his phone storage. My kids help him remove the unwanted content,” she says.

“They also try to get him to use the Gen-Z lingo and abbreviations like lol and brb when they text each other.”

Closing the gap

According to Tan, there are three levels of digital divide.

The first level looks into accessibility issues such as access to the internet and technological devices, the second is on an individual’s digital skills and knowledge and the third is the actual impact caused by varying levels of access and use of digital resources.

“Closing this grey digital divide may be achieved through implementation of policies, programmes and tools aimed at digital inclusion,” she adds.

“These programmes are not just about knowledge exchange; they also promote social cohesion and meaningful interactions, fostering better understanding and tolerance between generations,” she adds.

Willie says to bridge the gap, seniors should be encouraged to stay connected online while respecting their preference for in-person interaction.

“Community initiatives on digital literacy and collaborations with organisations that serve seniors will help too,” she says.




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