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Students bridge seniors' digital divide
Last Updated: 2020-12-09 08:53 | China Daily
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When the computer of Cheng Maosong's wife broke down, the 89-year-old former university administrator didn't know who to ask for help.

Their second son had left home 14 years ago to get married, and by his own admission, the retired faculty member of Xi'an Jiaotong University in Xi'an, Shaanxi province, is poor with new technology.

"I can't deny that as I'm older, my mind doesn't find it easy to learn new things, especially those related to digitalization," Cheng said.

"I asked my son how to fix the broken computer, but he never replied. I then realized I had to explore new ways to incorporate digital devices in my life."

However, help came to Cheng and his wife from the Yangfan (sailing) student club at the university, which in 2013 started an "empty nest" project offering assistance to former staff members of the institution.

Every Saturday at 8:30 am, the club organizes about 30 students to provide voluntary services for the retired staff members.

The students teach people ages 60 to 90, how to use smartphones and computers, and also help them repair their electronic devices. As an added service, they purchase daily necessities for physically impaired elderly people.

About 55 students have joined the club as volunteers and sometimes their work is more than just offering practical advice.

Many of the elders seeking assistance with technology also crave companionship through contact with the students.

Li Zhi, the 19-year-old leader of the empty nest project, said many of the students have forged friendships with the seniors they help.

"I'm not an expert in any field," said Li, from Pingdingshan, Henan province.

"But like everyone else in our club I am young and dedicated, and we are always willing to embrace a challenge. Most of the elderly involved in our club's activities were lonely at home. They are happy when we provide them with solutions and keep them company."

Li said he had been in the club for about two years and had participated in activities almost every weekend.

He said the project's main goal was to make the elderly competent in basic computer and smartphone skills.

"They have their daily routines and some refuse to try new things, but that's no excuse for us, even though we might run out of patience," Li said.

His grandparents live in his hometown and before joining the project he seldom had contact with them.

"More often than not, I didn't know what to say to them or how to get along with them," Li said.

"But as I participated in the activities organized by our club, I learned more about how the elderly live and their inner thoughts."

He said he now understands how to get along well with his grandparents and contacts them once a month.

China Internet Network Information Center statistics show that of 940 million internet users in China, 10.3 percent were age 60 and older at the end of June.

Equally telling was the rapid rise in the proportion of elders using the internet from 6.7 percent in March.

While the June figure equates to 97 million seniors using the internet, it also indicates that over 150 million are not using it, based on China's elderly population of an estimated number of 254 million last year.

In October, the Yangfan club expanded its scope to provide counseling services to a neighborhood community in Xi'an.

Every weekend, the club sends a team of five students to the neighborhood to teach seniors how to use WeChat so they can pay bills, contact people and browse news items.

"What we seem to take for granted has became an obstacle for them," Li said, adding that club members believe it is a priority to teach elders how to fully utilize their smartphones.

(Editor:Wang Su)

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Students bridge seniors' digital divide
Source:China Daily | 2020-12-09 08:53
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