As life goes on, so should learning. Lilia Cos, 60, and Wiseña Relente, 57, are a testament to this. They recently completed – and topped -- a short course, from which they emerged as social media savvy seniors who could hold their own against their millennial progeny.
Both residents of Barangay 672 of Paco, Manila, the women belong to the latest batch of graduates of the Smart “Millenniors” program that enables the elderly to keep in step with technology. The seniors learned to use smartphones and mobile data, open a Facebook account, take selfies and upload them. Their teachers were tech-savvy millennials, represented by students of Adamson University; hence the name of the program.
For Lilia and Wiseña, the lessons are priceless, bringing a fresh outlook on life. As studies have shown, the elderly are prone to feelings of loneliness and isolation, and Internet use can help keep depression at bay.
“It all has to do with older persons being able to communicate, to stay in contact with their social networks, and not just feel lonely,” according to Sheila Cotton, a Michigan State University professor who led one such research project.
Millennior Lilia, the batch “valedictorian,” lamented that she’s the only one among her siblings who can’t visit the family home in Bulacan regularly, due to the cost and effort of travel. Those overseas have been there more often.
Thanks to Facebook, even her siblings in Japan and Germany no longer seem so far away. “Finally, we’re talking! I haven’t seen you in a long time,” one of them exclaimed on their first contact. Lilia also gets to keep in touch with friends in Laguna and Cavite through Messenger.
Where Lilia found a way to connect, Wiseña discovered a way to escape. When she’s done with her chores, Wiseña doesn’t just put her feet up, she watches videos on YouTube, particularly her favorite telenovela.
“It takes my stress away,” she says, adding that she’s even subscribed to Smart’s an-hour-a-day Free YouTube promo.
The Adamson student trainers were just as thrilled about their unique interaction with the senior learners.
“I think seniors often feel left out. Usually, their grandchildren are constantly on their phones, hardly talking to them,” observed Marielle Tuazon. She was only too glad to help them connect better with their grandchildren and other loved ones.
Lilia’s mentor, Kathryne Alexandra Quel, admired her ward’s determination. “She continued to explore her smartphone even outside of our sessions together,” she said. After learning to make a video call and join a group chat, Lilia happily reported at the next session that she had been on nightly video calls with her siblings abroad, and she wants to learn more, recounted Kathryne.
For Jhontrix Catorce, another trainer, the best part was helping the seniors to express to their loved ones how they feel. “I want to teach this my parents as well,” he said.
Lilia finds Facebook to be the ideal place for expressing one’s feelings. “I like that Facebook asks me, ‘What’s on your mind?’ and I can use those hugot lines,” she teased. “I also like posting Facebook statuses because of the reactions I get.”
“At first, I used to be just a ‘lurker’ in our family group chat, not understanding fully how it worked,” Lilia recalled. “Once, my granddaughter called me out for repeatedly using winking emojis: ‘You might strain your eye with all that winking!’” she said, laughing.
“Apparently, I had pressed something that I didn’t know was showing up in our thread,” she said. “Now I know better.”
The seniors of Barangay 672 are the second batch of Smart Millenniors from Manila, the first being those from Barangay 734, also in Paco. Last May, Smart brought the program to Cebu, for members of the Philippine Association of Retired Persons, in cooperation with EduStudio and Coalition for Better Education. In Iligan City, the program was held in barangays Dalipuga and Santiago, with volunteers from MSU-IIT School of Computer Studies.
For promoting the teaching of technology among seniors and engaging the youth in this endeavor, the Smart Millenniors program won an Award of Merit at the recent 16th Philippine Quill Awards, and a Silver Anvil at the 53rd Anvil Awards last March.
"We are getting closer to our goal of making Internet truly for all, as more seniors participate in the Smart Millenniors program,” said Smart Public Affairs head Ramon Isberto. “As the world becomes increasingly digital, we are working to make sure that nobody gets left behind.”
The program has shown that the elderly are interested in learning about technology. “They just need patience and understanding,” one student trainer said.
“The students who taught us put in much effort,” said Wiseña, thanking them and Smart for her newfound knowledge.
There’s just one drawback: “My kids think I’m on my smartphone too often, they’re threatening to take it away!” she joked.