We continued to learn from our interns. This time, from those who were helping us with our efforts at providing internet connectivity to our members. They coordinated the distribution of donated pre-loved devices and often found themselves trouble shooting when members had difficulty connecting to wi-fi or were simply fumbling with an unfamiliar device. They made it clear to us that facilitating internet connectivity was not just a matter of providing a device or wi-fi connection but an ongoing promotion of digital literacy and this begins by removing barriers to learning and help seeking.
A parent approached us hesitantly for help to set up a tablet he had received from his family’s participation in the government’s KidStart Programme some time ago. In a polite and apologetic manner, he said that he knew we were busy and did not want to trouble us. Then when he got more comfortable, he shared that he was feeling rather silly, inadequate, and embarrassed.
We also learnt that many parents were most concerned that they would chalk up a hefty bill for usage even though they had received a reasonable amount of data and this discouraged them from utilising the device. Some even discouraged their children from using the laptops loaned from school as they were afraid of damaging expensive equipment.
Obviously, we have some way to go toward being a digitally inclusive society. Providing access to devices and wi-fi is a start but we should be honest that application processes for digital inclusion schemes are tedious and inadvertently become barriers that discourage. So, the patient guidance of those applying for them is important work. Then, I would think those of us who are already digital natives and immigrants should do our best to enable and welcome all who have yet to migrate to our digital society.
“Do I set chrome as default?” Nancy asked us as she tried out the pre-loved laptop she had just received. When we replied “Yes,” she was unsure and pointed her phone’s camera to the screen to confirm that she should press the “Set as default” tab. She was not sure as she interpreted our answer to mean that she had to press on a “Yes” tab.
We were on a WhatsApp face call and Nancy was delighted when she succeeded in installing Zoom and getting onto the platform. As a mother supervising 2 daughters in primary school and a 14-year-old son in secondary school, home-based learning has changed family routines and created new concerns. “I used to top up about $8 every week but with 3 kids, data finishes fast. I must constantly check and ration. I tell my girl that she can do English but must let her sister do Math first when I top up. It’s very stressful.”
Despite her challenges, Nancy is now navigating our digital society as a new immigrant. She is one of 584 families whom we have provided pre-loved devices and wi-fi connection this year. This is a stop-gap measure and for those who qualify for government digital inclusion, we support and facilitate their application. So far, we have facilitated at least 65 applications. For the longer run, we believe that wi-fi access at the void decks would be a more affordable and sustainable option and we are pleased that we have gotten one up and running at Kebun Bahru Constituency serving 300 public rental households.
Digital exclusion is a challenge for many but by making a small effort to welcome and support new digital immigrants, we are building a more inclusive society.
Wishing everyone health and peace of mind and to all our Muslim friends, Selamat Hari Raya Haji.
A lot of different flowers make a bouquet. – Islamic Proverb