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David Puttnam

Bringing digital skills to the young, the old and the marginalised

Bringing digital skills to the young, the old and the marginalised

27 May, 2016

Bringing digital skills to the young, the old and the marginalised

From young coders to former prisoners, Ashoka Ireland’s Fiona Koch highlights three social organisations that are empowering millions through technology.

Niamh Scanlon and David Puttnam may be separated by over 60 years in age, but they share an important mission. Both advocate for the benefits of digital technologies in improving society, helping disconnected or underrepresented groups of people to gain better access to technology.

Scanlon, 13, was named EU Digital Girl of the Year in 2015, while Puttnam, who turned 75 this February, has served as Ireland’s Digital Champion since 2012, and both play key roles in promoting the use of technology as a means for self-empowerment.

“Reaching out to the elderly, the disconnected among them, is a big part of the job,” Puttnam said of his work as he addressed the Silicon Republic Digital Ireland Forum in 2014. This was never more evident than on a sunny day this May, when he attended a computer skills workshop in the headquarters of Third Age, a national voluntary organisation seeking to elevate the value of elderly retirees in their communities, while filming an episode for his RTÉ documentary series on digital trends in Ireland.

Founder Mary Nally, introduced computer literacy classes to Third Age over 15 years ago, in order to transform the lives of the isolated elderly living in her rural hometown of Summerhill, Co. Meath. Now in her sixties herself, Nally wanted to share the feeling of empowerment that she gained when she learned how to use a computer and access the internet.

“Everything is digitalised today – from banking to shopping and more. Why should [the elderly] be left behind? At Third Age, we want to take the fear out of computing,” she explained during Puttnam’s visit.

“I know some older people have embraced technology, and others are afraid. I want to encourage everyone to say, ‘Maybe I will.’”

Joining Puttnam for the workshop was the well-known Irish Gaelic games commentator Mícheál Ó Muircheartaigh, who extolled the virtues of Skype for allowing him to “put the kettle on and share a cup of tea” via video call with his four children living abroad.

Puttnam, who is a passionate champion of digital technologies in education, explained how video-conferencing technology has enabled him to teach film students in six universities around the world from the comfort of his garage, calling it “a rejuvenating experience.”

Puttnam was keen to emphasise the importance of promoting digital skills in all ages. At 75, he says, “I’m working as hard as I’ve ever worked in my life, and if all goes well, I’ll have another ten years to look forward to. For young people growing up today, they could be working until they are 100! We are living in a world where change is a constant.”

Source: Silicon Republic

Written by: Fiona Koch

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