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What is it like to guide Seniors going Digital during Circuit-Breaker

When it was announced that Singapore will be going into partial lockdown (otherwise and officially known as a Circuit-Breaker) by the fourth month of this year, thoughts began rushing through my mind.

One thing for sure that hit me hard were my Active Agers.

As older adults are more vulnerable to the coronavirus (Covid-19), those thoughts were mainly filled with concern for the members of TDA’s Active Agers Class. While the safety measures put in place work to protect older adults from the virus, factors like isolation and drastic changes to their lifestyle can bring about much stress, restlessness and unhappiness.

“What will happen to our dance classes?”

“What are the alternatives available?”

“How can I continue to bring them fun and laughter in such stressful, uncertain times?”

My heart started to race even faster for the Active Agers hold a special place in me.

The term, ‘Active Agers’, had become part of my daily vocabulary. It represented the new friends I’ve found after starting such an initiative back in 2018, the class we call Active Agers. What started out as a platform to give back by providing free dance classes to seniors 55 & above every Sunday morning had become a weekly staple for me to find meaning.

I still remember very clearly the day when Singapore first recorded our first victim of the Covid-19 virus. It happened during the week of the Chinese New Year and very soon many more people fell victims to the virus. It is with deep regret we had to cancel our weekly class for our Active Agers and we all agreed we will resume once the situation improved significantly.

After almost two months, on the April 3rd, our Prime Minister announced that Singapore will be going into partial lockdown with Circuit Breaker commencing on 7th April. It was not long before we decided as a team, to continue the Active Agers class by hosting them on Zoom.

Zoom, the video-conferencing platform had been garnering millions of users ever since social distancing was encouraged and while I knew that we had to think forward and embrace change, deep down I was anxious about how the seniors would react and accept this online journey that we have to embark on.

The moment I messaged the Active Agers WhatsApp group chat, I knew my worries were not unfounded. Many of the seniors in the class brought up how worrying it is when they are not even familiar with their phones, much less setting up a laptop for a video conference. We also heard them raise up their concerns that they’ve never video called before. Being technologically illiterate from the get-go holds the biggest obstacle for seniors; the fear of treading out into the unknown.

Most services and supplies from banking to healthcare, meals, pet supplies and even home furnishing have been digitised because of the situation but not many seniors are equipped to move along with the digital scene. Everything from learning, entertainment, ordering meals and keeping in touch with friends and family members had moved online. Even finding a new lightbulb to change a faulty one can be difficult due to closure of physical hardware stores. Hearing from them made me realise how easily we take for granted the value of having access to digital technology and the skills required.

My role became clearer as I listened to their worries and concern. Many seniors find it easier to consult friends for advice rather than ask their children for help. During this period of time as a dance instructor, I can create a safe learning environment for the Active Agers to learn how to come online without feeling stupid or judged when they need help or make mistakes. A space where they can feel empowered and included in a digital world regardless of age or skill.

The first lesson was scheduled on the 5th of April and we started planning way ahead. We constantly update the group chat, guiding our Active Agers step by step, ensuring everyone was ready for their first-ever online dance lesson. It warms our heart that each and everyone was receptive to instructions as well as the willingness to learn. With sheer determination, we got down to work, finding the best method to ease the participants’ doubts.

The actual day arrived and to say all was smooth sailing would be lying. Everyone was online earlier than the scheduled time, full of excitement and at the same time getting all anxious waiting to be admitted to the meeting room. The room was opened 15 minutes earlier and participants began to pour in. The group chat was ringing non-stop, with participants not being able to “enter” the room. Those in the room had problems with the camera and some had issues with the sound. It was getting a bit chaotic. Very calmly, we addressed each problem and soon, with a sigh of relief, all 45 participants were admitted, ready for their first online lesson.

The first lesson whizzed through really fast and although the experience was totally different from a physical class, we all had great fun and agree that it was indeed an experience out of the ordinary.

As each week passed, we learnt to help one another and soon everyone was getting more confident in handling the technology. I could see participants with new gadgets each week like tripods and selfie sticks to enhance their learning experience. It was also heartwarming when everyone signed in online, with a glass of wine to celebrate my birthday at the end of April. From then on, I knew that everyone in the class had overcome their fear of technology and embraced the need to connect digitally.

As we continue our journey on to more fun classes, I would like to take a moment to thank all my Active Agers who join me each week without fail, taking the time and effort to learn how to connect with us digitally. I am sure it is NOT AN EASY FEAT especially for those born during the time of typewriters.

A BIG Thank you to all of you, for showing me that learning never stops, I am truly thankful to be enabling our silver citizens to keep themselves physically AND digitally active.

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