SINGAPORE — The recent uproar surrounding the SimplyGo payment platform has thrust into the spotlight the challenges faced by senior residents in Singapore in navigating the digital age.
Last month's announcement by the Land Transport Authority (LTA) to make SimplyGo the exclusive system for adult fare payments by June prompted a reassessment of the decision due to public outcry. Transport Minister Chee Hong Tat subsequently acknowledged that the authorities had "underestimated" commuters' strong preference for viewing fare deductions and card balances at station gates and bus card readers.
While about two-thirds of adult public transport users currently pay their fares through the SimplyGo EZ-Link cards or bank cards, the remaining third of adult users - who have not or are unwilling to make the transition from their old NETS FlashPay or EZ-Link cards - is where the implications for seniors in adapting to digitalisation are most evident.
This issue highlights a broader challenge: the digital divide, especially among older generations. Seniors whom Yahoo Southeast Asia spoke to shed light not only on SimplyGo but also on other areas where they struggle to keep pace, such as redeeming Community Development Council (CDC) vouchers digitally. Recent technological advancements like ChatGPT are also sparking interest and apprehension among these seniors.
What are some of the digital hurdles faced by seniors?
It is not for the lack of trying that causes the digital divide. June Chen, a 68-year-old Singaporean, found herself having to navigate the unfamiliar digital landscape during the challenging times of the COVID-19 pandemic.
"We were forced to (go online) during COVID-19 to meet with friends and carry on with our activities. So we tried using Microsoft Teams, Zoom, WhatsApp video calls," she said.
Chen stressed the necessity of keeping up with the younger generation's preferences to bridge the communication gap, saying, "We also have to go along with what the young people want to do, or else there will be a gap in communication. Otherwise, they will say, 'you can't do lah, let's forget about it'.
Chen also recounted her attempt to use SimplyGo, only to encounter unexpected challenges. "I downloaded SimplyGo, but when I tapped, I realised that the deduction was the full (adult) price, not the senior price," she explained, highlighting the discrepancy in pricing.
Faced with this issue, she decided to continue using her old EZ-Link card.
Beyond personal challenges, Chen shed light on broader issues faced by seniors in embracing technology. "I know that some seniors don't dare to download any apps because, frankly, their children forbid them to download," she revealed, indicating the barriers imposed by concerns on online safety and scams.
She elaborated on the challenges faced when claiming the CDC vouchers, which are part of a government support package aimed at alleviating the impact of inflation.
These vouchers are accessible digitally, and a household member can log in using their Singpass account to claim the vouchers on behalf of their household. Those without a smartphone or Singpass can visit a community centre to obtain a hard-copy of their vouchers.
Chen explained, "Regarding the CDC voucher, why do some people queue up to get the hard copy? It's because we do not know how to use it and can be quite troublesome, especially without Wi-Fi or a data connection."
Another senior, Ahjmer Singh, also acknowledges the importance of digital lessons to enhance his understanding of digital tools, but the 66-year-old maintains some reservations.
He said, "I seldom take public transport. I am more of a cyclist. When I need to go out, I use the senior silver concession card for buses. But when it comes to all these technologies, I see those who are into it using watches to just tap. I'm not so into it."
Chen and Ahjmer are members of Lions Befrienders (LB) active ageing centre at Block 344 Clementi Avenue 5. The centre offers various classes, such as the use of smartphones and tablets and, with a network of 10 active ageing centres, like LB has a significant reach, serving over 8,000 elderly beneficiaries.
Karen Wee, the LB Service Association executive director, highlighted seniors' increasing openness towards digitalisation. She noted that more seniors are becoming proactive and seeking community support and resources.
"When people are aware and make more effort to take care of themselves, fewer end up going to nursing homes. They remain healthier for a longer time," she added.
Empowering seniors through technology
Sammy How, assistant director of elder education at Fei Yue Community Services (FYCS), stressed the significance of adapting to recent technological advancements that could benefit seniors.
Discussing seniors' growing interest in technology, he noted their curiosity about platforms like ChatGPT, saying, "They read about things like how AI can replace some professions and how it can help to plan holiday itinerary in a matter of seconds."
To address this, FYCS offers online intergenerational courses. How explained, "Seniors will participate in activities with our youth volunteers who teach them how to use the chatbot."
Moreover, FYCS recognises seniors' interest in emerging technologies like drone technology. From next month, the organisation plans to introduce a digital pilot programme that includes basic drone piloting.
Addressing seniors' apprehension towards adopting new technology, How explained, "Some seniors can get anxious when they have to adopt new technology, especially those that will impact their daily lives. They will start going around asking their family members and friends or go to the nearest public transport station/terminal to gather more details."
He suggested that it would be beneficial if transport authorities distributed pictorial or easy-to-understand guides in different languages to seniors' households in advance to prepare them for the launch of any new public transport payment systems.
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