Age is no barrier for tech tutor

Mr Ho Hew Lee, 75, has been teaching his fellow seniors how to use technology for the past three years.
Mr Ho Hew Lee, 75, has been teaching his fellow seniors how to use technology for the past three years.ST PHOTO: DESMOND WEE

Mr Ho Hew Lee is 75, but he can code, navigate social media and understand technology as well as many young people.

For the past three years, he has been teaching his fellow seniors at libraries how to use technology. A retired engineer, he started volunteering in 2006 in libraries where he shelved books. In 2014, he found his niche by teaching seniors at Bukit Merah library to use technology.

"I planned a year-long programme for them, with a session every month. I taught everything from using Facebook and Google to how to take photographs."

He even took fellow seniors on photography trails to places such as the Botanic Gardens so that they could practise their skills.

"I also have coffee chats with them, where we meet up in areas like foodcourts and coffee shops for peer-to-peer learning." Mr Ho even goes the extra mile by turning his home into a "workshop". "I have some of them come over to test out my scanner and learn to scan documents," he said with a laugh.

Besides these simple skills, he also teaches more advanced concepts like computer coding. "I encourage them to get engaged and to think logically and systematically. It helps them use their brain."

One challenge is seniors might not always understand the technological terms used. "I've to be very patient. When we talk about things like phone data plans, they don't understand terms like 'Internet speed'."

To get such terms across, Mr Ho has to break them down using simple everyday analogies. "I tell them it's like a car and they understand it in terms of how fast the car goes or how many people can sit in it.

"I'm like a doctor. They bring their problems to me and I tell them how to solve it... Some said their children talk too fast and they don't understand, so they need someone like me who's the same as them."

Still, Mr Ho remains the oldest in class. "There's no one who has beaten me yet, in terms of age."

But the tutor becomes the tutee at home. Mr Ho has eight grandchildren and he often helps to care for six of them, while the other two live abroad. Their ages range from around six to 16 years.

"It's the kids who really teach me. I remember that it was my grandson who taught me how to pinch the screen of a device to make the words bigger," he said.

Sue-Ann Tan

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on December 31, 2017, with the headline 'Age is no barrier for tech tutor'. Print Edition | Subscribe