South Africa


Township seniors step up to get connected through Alexandra digital literacy project

Township seniors step up to get connected through Alexandra digital literacy project
Pensioner Constance Mabalane logs into her Gmail account during a recent session with goGOGOgo in Alexandra township in Johannesburg. “Before, our grandchildren would take advantage of how little we knew about smartphones and the internet. They could use our data and finish it without our knowledge. Now we know what is going on,” she says. (Photo: Masego Mafata)

goGOGOgo teaches elderly persons how to navigate smartphones, the internet as well as how to access online government services.

Navigating new technology and digital applications has become necessary for many people trying to access government assistance and services during the Covid pandemic. But for many older persons, this is not easy.

The goGOGOgo project in Alexandra in Johannesburg is teaching a group of older persons in the township to be more tech-savvy.

Pensioner Joyce Cindi said she had learned how to communicate with teachers during the Covid lockdown through an app used by her granddaughter’s school. Cindi is the legal guardian of the teenager.

“Before starting the lessons, I didn’t know how the app worked and I would miss important notices from the school. Now I can log in, check the notices and even follow up on my granddaughter’s homework,” she said.

The people attending the lessons told GroundUp that as a result of the lessons they were less reliant on others helping them with smartphones and the internet.

“I’ve surprised a lot of people since starting these lessons. When some friends and I got lost at a funeral, I was able to use the navigation app on my phone to help us find our way. My friends couldn’t believe it,” said Florence Nawa.

Twice a week, the group attend lessons at the Itlhokomeleng Association for the Aged and Disabled. Many of the women attending the tech lessons also collect food parcels from the association. In most cases, they are the sole providers for their families and are raising their grandchildren using their Older Persons Grant.

During lessons, they are taught the basics of using the internet, emails and some commonly used social media apps.

The project was started by Jane Simmonds in 2020. The aim is to support and empower mostly elderly women, who are primary caregivers in their families, living in townships and rural communities across the country.

In addition to the tech lessons, goGOGOgo also runs several health promotion and education projects for the women.

Florence Nawa (left) and Dudu Machethe (right) learn how to use and navigate an e-hailing app with guidance from project facilitator Siyasanga Mtayi. (centre). (Photo: Masego Mafata)

Simmonds said that part of their lessons is on internet safety and she hopes the women will share these lessons with their grandchildren at home.

According to facilitator Siyasanga Mtayi, they started in May 2021 after establishing what exactly older people wanted to learn about on the internet and smartphones. They are currently wrapping up lessons with a second group of women who are expected to graduate on Thursday, she said.

“At first, the gogos used to get annoyed when the screens of the tablets they used went black, thinking it had switched off. But they know they must press a button on the side to unlock it and they do it all on their own now,” she said.

Bradley Chauke, another facilitator, said that interest in the lessons from other older people in Alexandra has grown. “We had to split the first cohort into two groups. We’ve had more gogos coming to tell us that they would like to join the lessons. They’re really interested in learning more about technology,” he said.

Simmonds said the project needed funding to expand. At least 15 tablets were donated by service provider Cell C for the lessons.

“We want to scale up the project by teaching gogos in different parts of the country. We would like to give each gogo a tablet and some data to take home, once they have graduated. The tablet can become an asset for them and their grandchildren to use in the household,” she said. DM

First published by GroundUp.


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