Vodafone Ireland is to invest more than €2 million in a multi-year digital skill training programme for older people.
The nationwide programme, which will be delivered through a mix of online courses and in-person mentoring, is being carried out through the Vodafone Ireland Foundation in partnership with Alone and Active Retirement Ireland.
The Hi Digital programme aims to reach more than 230,000 older people over the next five years through its purpose-designed education platform.
From Wednesday, the guided course will be offered online, covering subjects such as setting up smartphones, using messaging platforms, online shopping and staying safe.
In January, Vodafone Ireland said the course would be offered in person in a mixture of face-to-face sessions with Active Retirement Ireland or Alone volunteers, small group training and classes based at Vodafone’s hubs around the country.
Vodafone Ireland Foundation expects to reach 20,000 people in its first year, with the programme evolving to touch on more subjects and reach more people every year after that.
Research cited by the mobile operator indicates digital literacy levels in the 65-and-over age group in Ireland are among the lowest in Europe, at 19 per cent. The digital divide is worse in rural areas and has been exacerbated by the pandemic.
Vodafone Ireland Foundation head Liz Roche said the pandemic highlighted the digital divide: "At the start of the pandemic we donated 2,000 smartphones to Alone. It really evolved from that. Most of those older people who received devices needed help setting them up. At the time they were cocooning at home and didn't have the luxury of a child, grandchild or neighbour to help set them up. It's evolved from that real first-hand experience; there's a massive gap here that needs to be addressed."
Online security fears
Vodafone subsequently set up a smartphone helpline, which Ms Roche said received a steady stream of calls. Most calls were taking about an hour to resolve, highlighting the need for some help for this age group. Subsequent research with Alone found confusion about how to carry out some tasks and fears about privacy and online security were the primary concerns among this age group, with others expressing a desire to learn how to do more with their devices.
“Through our commitment to this programme, we want to change older people’s attitude and behaviour towards technology. We want to empower older people by educating them on how to use the internet and explain the benefits it can have on their daily lives,” said Anne O’Leary, chief executive of Vodafone Ireland.
“As technology continues to improve and advance, increasingly in Ireland and across Europe, we are seeing a digital divide between generations. This digital divide is not only creating social isolation among older people, but poses a long-term threat to mental health, leading to a risk of depression for older generations as communities and services become increasingly digitised.”
Ms Roche said she expects the content to continue to evolve based on the feedback and concerns of its users. The programme has been devised with input from Alone and Active Retirement Ireland.
“Alone’s aim is to create an infrastructure to empower older people to use technology, enabling the user to manage their social connection, health, safety and security. Our partnership with Hi Digital helps us on this journey,” said Seán Moynihan, chief executive of Alone.
Further information on the Hi Digital programme is available by phone on 1800 203030 or online at hidigital.ie