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Liisa is 80 - who should teach her to pay bills online?

Older people without computer skills need to pay their bills and access a growing range of online services. At present, the elderly are dependent on volunteers to teach them the basics of what's become a necessary part of life in the digital age. In the long run, this will have to change.

Liisa Kauppinen.
Liisa Kauppinen encourages other older people to learn to use the internet, even though it can be "scary". Image: Toni Pitkänen / Yle

At first, Liisa Kauppinen was afraid to even turn on a computer. Everybody told her it wouldn't bite. It didn't bite, but it felt somehow painful to launch into learning an entirely new skill  at the age of 80.

"It was totally new. I was terribly afraid," she admits.

Then six months ago she signed up for some slow-paced instruction in the ways of computers and the digital world, and "got some bank stuff to put on it", in other words got herself online access to banking services.

Today, she watches movies on her tablet, reads the news online and has a Facebook account. She  still, however, hasn’t found the courage to pay bills online all by herself.

"Once I get home [from lessons], I can't remember anything, so I write everything down and then  practice," Liisa Kauppinen says.

Liisa is not an unusually slow pupil. It's said that for someone her age the number of hours  needed to learn to use digital services is comparable to a young person going through a complete course in drivers training two or three times in a row.

"If you start from buying the computer in a box at a shop, it may take a hundred hours before  before you can tell someone like this to start handling banking online," explains Kari Tikkanen,  a volunteer instructor with the digital training association Savonetti.

"The young do it so fast"

Kari Tikkanen.
"There's not much need for paper and pen these days," says volunteer trainer Kari Tikkanen. Image: Toni Pitkänen / Yle

A 2015 survey found that there were almost half a million people over the age of 65 in Finland who had never used the internet. Now, someone needs to teach them not only to access public sector services, but also to pay their bills, check their medical prescriptions and buy transport tickets online.

Right now "someone" means Kari Tikkanen and other volunteers like them who instruct local  elderly people. Peer teaching has proven to be effective. When one senior teaches another, the pace tends to be relaxed and there's a shared style of communicating.

"The young do it so fast that you can't keep up and learn anything," Liisa Kauppinen points out.

Digital training carried out by the North Savo's Savonetti association is funded by Finland's  Slot Machine Association. Right now, it has around one hundred peer instructors.

The problem is that digital instruction for the elderly requires a lot more input than volunteer groups can offer. Lea Stenberg, an expert the Helsinki-based Technology for the Elderly Centre sees digital services as such an essential part of today's society that teaching  these skills can no longer be left solely up to volunteers. She has called on the government to fund a solution to the problem faced by those without the needed skills.

"What will it be? Will homecare personnel be trained to help and more of them hired? Or should libraries employ someone who goes to people's homes? Or should we start paying volunteers?" Lea  Stenberg asks.

Ministry: No, not just volunteers

Ikämiehet korjaavat tietokonetta.
People can also bring their devices to Savonetti for volunteers to repair. Image: Toni Pitkänen / Yle

All of the alternatives mentioned by Stenberg have been put forth within the Finance Ministry's  AUTA (HELP) project which is seeking ways to help the elderly cross the digital threshold. The Ministry's project includes funding of up to 20,000 euros each for trial teaching  programmes. 

So far, though, a model for moving forward has not yet been established.

"If we want a model that is nationwide in scope and provides standardize service, it has to come from a muncipal-level provider. A library would be a natural provider," says Heikki Talkkari of  the Finance Ministry.

But then could the state also start paying enthusiastic peer teaching volunteers like Kari  Tikkanen? The Finance Ministry's Talkkari thinks it's an alternative worth considering.

Right now, teaching half a million people to use digital devices and digital services looks like monumental task. Even so, Kari Tikkanen is confident it can be done.

"I was surprised to get a digital Christmas card from someone who a year ago couldn't use a computer. It was heartwarming."

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