Coordination between social service agencies can improve digital inclusion for seniors: Josephine Teo

Minister for Communications and Information Josephine Teo speaking to partners at an engagement session on Feb 3, 2023, to better understand the digital needs of low-income households and seniors. PHOTO: LIANHE ZAOBAO

SINGAPORE - Social service agencies should work together better and pool resources to help vulnerable groups access digital technologies – and setting up a central online portal for agencies to share information could help with that, social workers said.

Better coordination can help address issues that may arise from providing digital access. For example, while some low-income seniors may be given free mobile phones by an agency, they may not use the phones as they do not know how to.

Other seniors may be given training on how to use phones, but have none available outside of their training sessions.

This was an example brought up during an engagement session organised by the Ministry of Communications and Information on Friday, held as part of the Forward Singapore conversations to refresh the social compact.

The event, which took place at the Lifelong Learning Institute in Paya Lebar, was attended by 50 partipicants from social service agencies, tech and telecommunications companies, and institutes of higher learning. It was held under Chatham House rules, which means that participants cannot be named in media reports.

Participants also mentioned how seniors could be put off by having to go to collection points to get SIM cards for the $5 mobile data plans they can sign up for.

Instead, the participants suggested, the SIM cards can be made available for collection at Singapore Post, or delivered to social service agencies that can give them to the elderly beneficiaries.

They also observed that peer support – such as a WhatsApp chat group to share “good morning” messages, or setting up the FairPrice mobile application together in place of the Kopitiam stored value card, which is now being phased out – can motivate seniors to practise digital skills.

Seniors can also impart skills they learn to their peers, the participants said.

They also suggested that applications for financial aid be further streamlined, to save beneficiaries the hassle of filling in multiple application forms and providing supporting documents.

Ms Felicia Seah, president of SGBono, which provides refurbished laptops to Community Health Assist Scheme blue card holders, said it works with Vivita Singapore to conduct workshops for children on skills such as coding, and using graphic design tool Canva on their laptops.

The two organisations run these sessions every third Saturday of the month at lifestyle hub Heartbeat@Bedok. SGBono also offers free laptop repair for its beneficiaries.

Ms Teo Pek Wan, director of adult and elderly services at disability agency SPD, said the organisation is trying to reach more caregivers of people with disabilities, to help them access important digital services using Singpass.

Some of these caregivers are seniors and struggle with using digital services themselves, she said.

She added that SPD is trying to guide special education school graduates to learn basic functions of their phone, such as how to turn on Wi-Fi.

In her closing remarks at the event, Minister for Communications and Information Josephine Teo said that while 99 per cent of households in Singapore have broadband access, the remaining 1 per cent should not be forgotten.

She stressed that social service agencies should ride on existing schemes and programmes.

“We should look at it from the point of view of the beneficiaries and ask: ‘Can we make it more seamless, convenient, flexible for them, using existing touchpoints that already exist?’”

She also emphasised the importance of skills training. “Just because someone has access doesn’t mean that they will be able to go online and use digital services with confidence,” she said.

“The training has to be thoughtfully considered and timely. If there is a discontinuity between when the person gets hold of the device and when they acquire the skills to use it, and the training provided has a gap, you might have lost the person’s interest.”

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