Manly Computer Pals president Judy Elias with Be Connected Young Mentors Program participants.
Manly Computer Pals president Judy Elias with Be Connected Young Mentors Program participants.

Students connect with seniors to demystify digital world

THE Office of eSafety is reaching out to high school students to assist in increasing digital literacy for older Australians and building intergenerational relationships.

The Be Connected Young Mentors Program has just finished being trialed across Australia, with the official launch of the free program set for late March.

For eSafety project manager Jill McNaught, being connected doesn't just mean helping seniors to get online and do it safely.

It is also about benefiting student skills in leadership and community connection, and "breaking down the stereotypes on both sides of the generational gap".

The young mentors program is based on research which indicated seniors wanted one-on-one support with learning based on what the seniors identify they want to learn rather than what is prescribed through a structured learning process.

"The young mentors meet the seniors where they are at in their learning journey and work from there," Ms McNaught.

The student mentors are given three hours of training which covers mentoring skills, how to mentor an older person, the barriers that may need to be overcome, the safety and boundaries of the relationship, the benefits of mentoring for both cohorts and learning about the Be Connected learning resources.

Most of the pilot groups ran four to six weeks of mentoring sessions.

Pilot project member Manly Computer Pals chose to partner with 20 Year 9 students from several northern beaches schools who were involved in the Duke of Edinburgh Award scheme.

"For the Bronze Award they need to complete 13 weeks of community service," Ms McNaught said.

The students received three hours of training and then did 10 weeks of mentoring.

Club president Judy Elias said they ran their pilot in their clubroom. The students were then paired by Manly Computer Pals with 20 seniors who brought in their own android or Apple devices and met with the mentors for one-hour sessions to address their individual needs.

"Their questions were what ever they had difficulty with on their own devices," Ms Elias said. "The Year 9 students tried very hard to answer those questions. If they couldn't answer them, the students would do some research and answer the questions the following week.

"The seniors benefited because they learnt on the job from kids that use their devices all the time, so they felt as though they were in today's world."

Ms Elias said both the seniors and students enjoyed working on the project.

"The kids were enthralled with talking to the seniors about life skills generally, not just digital skills," she said.

"Socially, it was amazing. There was some talk of keeping up relationships after the course."

She also noticed new connections being made between the participating seniors.

As a result of the success of the pilot project, the club plans to offer the course for more seniors in April.

From the feedback received during the pilot program, Ms McNaught says the students experienced an increase in their confidence, patience, respect and emotional intelligence as well as communication, teaching and problem-solving skills.

"The seniors say they are seeing an increase in their digital skills and confidence, and they are feeling more independent and more confident in the use of technology," Ms McNaught said.

"On the whole they were surprised at how kind, helpful and patient the young students are."

For more information and to register an organisation's interest in participating, go to esafety.gov.au/seniors/be-connected-young-mentors.


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