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The Skype's the limit as kids get their folks online


Learning from the
best: Kitty Whelan
gets some online
pointers from her
granddaughter Aine

Learning from the best: Kitty Whelan gets some online pointers from her granddaughter Aine

Learning from the best: Kitty Whelan gets some online pointers from her granddaughter Aine

At the age of 80, Kitty Whelan decided that she wanted to use the Internet. So who better to teach her than her 13-year-old grand-daughter Aine?

Every few days Kitty from Kildare town sits down with Aine and learns basic technological skills, and she now seems well versed in online matters.

Just a few months ago Kitty had never used a computer in her life before,

"I decided I had to learn when my grandson Gary gave me a laptop,'' said the octogenarian internet novice

Now, with the help of Aine, she can contact Gary and her other relatives by Skype and she uses the Internet to pursue her passionate interest in horse racing.

She also checks the death notices on the site RIP.ie

Kitty was recently delighted to find film footage of one of her relatives playing GAA for Offaly on YouTube.

The internet may now be taken for granted among just about everybody under 40, but there continues to be a sharp digital divide. The majority of Irish people over 50 do not use it at all.

The most recent estimates of the number of over-50s who are not online range from 60-75pc. This can hinder them from carrying out everyday activities such as booking flights or renewing insurance.

Groups working on behalf of older people such as Age Action have been keen to bridge this divide. It runs the Getting Started programme, which delivers training on computers, the internet and mobile phones to the over-55s.

Now Google and Age Action have started a new initiative aimed at encouraging children and young people to teach their parents or grand-parents to use the Internet.

Getyourfolksonline.ie gives internet-savvy children of any age guidance on how to teach older people and loved ones how to get online.

Sinead Gibney, Head of Social Action at Google, said: "So much of what we know about the Internet is taken for granted, but these skills have to be learned.''

Just as teaching a young relative to drive can be difficult, teaching an older how to use the Internet can be frustrating.

"Too often we are teaching when things go wrong and it is reactive,'' said Sinead Gibney. "The aim of Getyourfolk-online.ie is to be more pro-active.''

The new website gives the young teachers the outlines of lessons. It is easy to forget that a learner may have to be trained in the most simple computer functions. This could be anything from using a mouse and the shift key on the keyboard to navigating between pages.

Sinead Gibney said one advantage of being taught by an younger relative is that they may be familiar with the older person's interests.

Kitty Whelan takes notes while her grand-daughter Aine teaches her. If she has a problem when she goes online she rings Aine up and she can sort it out.

Aine said: "It actually seemed to come easy to my grandmother even though she had never used a computer before.''

Trinity student Catherine Lynch is ideally qualified to teach her 51-year-old father Ken about the Internet. Catherine is studying Computer Science at Trinity College.

Ken, a Dublin taxi driver, said: "I have learned a lot from her. I wouldn't say that I am perfect on the Internet, but I know the basics at least.''

"For me it is very useful because it is a great information source for things such as buying cars.''

Getyourfolksonline.ie started 10 days ago. Age Action spokesman Eamonn Timmins said: "Already we have had a great response.''

The lesson plans are not just aimed at beginners. There are lessons for those with some knowledge of computers who want to find their way around sites such as Facebook and Twitter.

Users can get guidance how to watch a YouTube video, how to use the RTÉ Player, and how to book flights.

The Getting Started computer courses for older people have been running for four years and have proved hugely popular. Around 10,000 people have learned about computers using these courses.

"Not everybody can get to one of these courses,'' said Eamonn Timmins.

"So we introduced the Getyourfolksonline.ie website as another way of learning.

"The Internet can play a great role for older people in decreasing loneliness.

"One of the worst problems for them can be isolation, but now if they learn how to use the Internet they can be in touch with people easily.

"It will also enable them to become more politically involved.''

Eamonn Timmins said inititiative such as Getyourfolksonline.ie not only enable older people to learn how to use the Internet. They also encourage solidarity between generations, bringing people in different age groups closer together.

The Log On, Learn programme-- run by Intel -- is another initiative that enables older people to learn about computers and the Internet from the young.

In eight weekly training sessions, the student tutors share their knowledge of how to use a PC and mouse, basic Microsoft Word and the Internet.

Irish Independent