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New Delhi: While the government’s National Digital Literacy Mission (NDLM) aims to empower at least one person per household with crucial digital literacy skills by 2020, the elderly population seems to be missing from the plan.

With computerization or digitalization of almost all basic services and facilities, Digital Literacy has become need of the hour especially for the vulnerable elderly population.

“There are so many uses and benefits of digital literacy but digitally illiterate persons, particularly older persons (55+) find it very tricky to handle / operate their smart phones. In our country, most older persons are not computer literate, as they have never learnt computer skills," said Himanshu Rath, chairman, Agewell Foundation, an NGO working for welfare and empowerment of the elderly.

“Computers are still strange thing for most of them and they try to escape from computer technology. While most older persons are keen to learn basics of smartphone, computers, laptops and other modern gadgets, they hardly get support from their younger family members, relatives or society due to hectic lifestyle of younger generations among other factors," he said.

Studies have shown that digital literacy can be a boon for older persons, particularly for those who live alone, live away from their children/grandchildren, live with mobility constraints and want to live independently in old age. It not only makes their life smooth, comfortable and easier but also keeps them in the mainstream of society. The study also observed that there is a keen desire among older persons to keep them connected with the new world order, ruled by internet and information technology.

However, according to an Agewell Foundation Survey, approximately 85.8% respondents were found to be digitally and computer illiterate. Out of this, 76.5% were elderly men and 95% were elderly women.

The digital space is gaining pace in the country and use of digital payments is continuously increasing. According to the India Brand Equity Foundation (IBEF), a trust established by the Department of Commerce under the Ministry of Commerce and Industry, driven by progressive regulatory policies and increased use of mobile internet, Indian payment industry is going through a transformational phase.

According to the latest report by IBEF, the digital payment industry is gaining momentum and is projected to grow at an exponential rate of 81% of existing digital payment users prefer the medium over other non-cash payment methods like cheques or demand drafts.

However, there are no dedicated programs for digital literacy programs for elderly, NGOs like Agewell foundation and HelpAge India are running such programmes, where the uptake is really impressive as Agewell has already trained over 35,000 elderly in the last four years.

“In today’s age of constant changing technology, elderly are often left behind as they cannot keep up with the fast pace. This often leads to them being socially isolated. At HelpAge we conduct Digital Literacy classes to empower elders, so they don’t have to be dependent on anyone and can connect with their children, grandchildren living abroad or in a different city," said Sonali Sharma, director - Communications, HelpAge India.

“We teach them how to use a smartphone, make online transactions whether it be banking or paying utility bills or make online bookings. This especially helps elders who find it physically difficult to stand in long lines to make bill payments," she said.

HelpAge and Agewell Foundation also get elderly connected via social media and teach them how to use Skype, WhatsApp, google search, book cabs, browse YouTube, open Facebook accounts connecting them to old batch mates, friends and family.

“It opens a whole new world of engagement for them and also provides them a ready source of news, entertainment and connects them to the outside world, besides making life easier for them. Often their own children or grandchildren don’t get the time or in some cases don’t have the patience to teach them, these Digital workshops become their window to independence and helps in building their self confidence and improving their quality of life," said Sharma.

According to a United Nations report, the share of older persons, those aged 60 years or above, in India's population is projected to increase to nearly 20% in 2050.

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