It’s common knowledge in today’s world that our teenage kids are more tech-savvy than most of us older parents, especially when it comes to using social media or the latest apps. My children exchange looks of resigned despair when their ancient dad says he doesn’t ‘get’ Snap-chat, or struggles to update his profile on more or less anything.
Teens have surpassed all other age groups, older and younger, in their knowledge of connected software and devices, so who better than our geeky children to teach older generations how to use the latest technologies that might have passed them by?
Well, in Qatar an innovative project is doing just that. The Inter-generational ICT Learning Program, or WASLA, as it’s known locally, is an initiative of the Ministry of Transport and Communications that is run through schools and youth centers. WASLA, which means “connection” in Arabic, enables school facilitators to recruit children aged 15-18 to become ‘Digital Champions’ and provides them with orientation, support materials and tools that they can use to help their older relatives in learning how to access online government services, communicate through social media and use the internet to retrieve information or make online purchases safely.
As Qatar continues to drive towards becoming a smart society, it’s important that no one is left on the wrong side of the digital divide, and there are over 45,000 people over the age of 60 in the country who risk falling into this category. But there are also over 55,000 secondary school students who have the potential to become WASLA Digital Champions. Some 811 children from over 20 schools have already been enrolled on the 12-week program that sees them complete six assignments. An added motivation for the children is that the hours spent in training and mentoring their relatives count towards their Community Service target of 50 hours, which is a requirement for graduation from high school.
Some of the assignments the students are trained to deliver include the basics of internet and email, search engines, cloud computing, using Skype, Viber, Instagram or Twitter, shopping on Amazon and using the government online services portal, Hukoomi.
But it’s not just about the tech. There are social benefits for both children and their older relatives. The children learn patience and to think more about old people and their challenges; they are asked to discuss their attitudes to older generations through engaging workshops, one of which is entitled “What do you think of old people in general? (Are they too old?)” And for the older generations, it’s an opportunity to reduce isolation, and spend time one-on-one with their increasingly busy offspring. WASLA – It’s Connected!