Working with the elderly in Covid times - the Uporto Sessions Experience

Throughout the last months, ICTskills4All has faced major challenges to conduct project activities without exposing the elderly to risks. Portugal officially started social isolation in mid-March 2020. The scheduled face-to-face sessions were thus postponed to July, when the health authorities were ab le to cointain the threat and authorized the reopening.

Nevertheless, the new preventive measures  demanded social distance, and this gave a clear demonstration of the difficulties of using the computer, especially for the elderly with few digital skills and requiring more assistance.

In addition, the recruitment became a challenge because people were distrustful and still worried about participating in the face-to-face sessions despite the reopening.
Moreover, the use of masks during classes was a hindrance since it often made it difficult to understand the accent of people from other countries and created a sense of discomfort and stress.

Because of the new safety measures, the number of participants was also reduced  to 2 groups with 2 trainers and 4 students each.

Another challenge was the participants different level of digital skills’. The classes had to be adapted to meet the needs of all students, in order to become interesting and engaging for both groups. Thus, the assistants had to be allocated according to the skills of the group. 

However,  it was observed that the number of assistants was not enough. Indeed, participants with no skills needed full attention, which became an arduous task in groups of several participants.

Despite the difficulties, the participants requested additional sessions, because they enjoyed the human interaction and didactic methods of their educators and assistants. Moreover, they understood the importance of being able to improve and gain basic digital skills.

The success of the first ICTskills4All pilots sessions was also confirmed by the participants' request for the course to continue, which is planned to happen as soon as the circumstances allow it.

The observation made by the Polish team about not infantilizing participants is of an extreme importance. This impairs the learning of the elderly and is disrespectful towards the target groups. Prior knowledge in gerontology, training and experience in dealing with classes for the elderly is also very necessary. This audience has specific characteristics, such as hearing and visual loss, resistance to technologies, short memory, among other aspects that were present in our classes. The assistants' ability to overcome these difficulties was essential for the success of the sessions and for positive feedback.

The participants realized that ICT skills are absolutely necessary when facing the lockdown restrictions and the learning process itself is more important than the transmission of content!

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