As expected last month, and despite the sanitary situation still imposing restrictions, the training in Slovenia has started!

In this interview, Sasa Gercar from Simbioza, talks about the challenges of training elderly people in the midst of a pandemic. 

When did you join Simbioza and what are your first impressions of the projects run by the organisation?
I joined Simbioza 1st of March this year but I know the story of Simbioza since its very beginning. I was one of the volunteers on Simbioza’s first project 10 years ago when the organization started teaching digital skills to elderly people all over Slovenia. Back then, it seemed to me as the coolest idea and I’ve been following and admiring this organization since then. It took some time for Simbioza and me to finally make the perfect match.

How is the situation with COVID affecting elderly people in Slovenia? Do they seem more motivated to get digital skills?

It is difficult to comment on how the attitude of elderly people has changed since COVID, because before I started to work at Simbioza I was not involved in working with the elderly population. I used to work in an office where most of my colleagues (even those 55+) were completely equipped with digital skills. I’m myself older than 55 and coming to Simbioza brought me closer to the “real world”. I was totally surprised to discover that there are a bunch of people from my generation who don’t know basic things about using computers. My personal opinion is that they are slowly realizing that their poorer knowledge of digital skills may be an obstacle in getting meals or buying things more easily, or even getting faster to the doctor and being in touch with their dearest. With projects such as ICT4 the Elderly they will get an overview and may get more motivated.

You joined the ICT 4 the elderly project in this final phase. What are the main challenges in working with partners that you don’t know personally and don’t have the chance to meet face-to-face? On the other hand, are there any advantages?

Yes, it is definitely a challenge working with people you have never met face-to-face. Especially for us baby-boomers. The first challenge is the foreign language, and then, the new, for me still unknown tools for communication. Finally, many new names and mails from different people who I never saw. I’ve tried to ask some questions about each project team member that I was in contact with to make it easier to me for visualize, get closer … but honestly, it is still mostly “e-mail addresses” with no faces. The lesson I’ve got – we still need face-to-face contacts and so far I haven’t managed to recognize any advantages of this remote mode.

In this project, you are working with people 55-74 y.o. This includes people of a working age, as well as retired people. Do they have the same needs, the same interests? What are the differences?

It is a bit too soon for me to express a strong opinion. My first impression was that all would like to be up to date with the time. All of them are a bit scared of e-commerce and possible scams and would rather stay away from any digital transaction having even a tiny possibility of scam. Being able to run a video conference, searching for data or going to virtual galleries or museums – that’s common interest regardless of their age. We may discover some differences during the upcoming workshops.

What was participants’ impression when coming on first workshop?

The first meeting we had was a bit different from what we had primarily planned. Instead of a whole group, we had a number of face-to-face meetings with only one individual at the time. Most of them were nervous and a bit scared. But after a few minutes they were all happy and relaxed. They are all looking forward to the upcoming modules.

How, in your view, will this training improve their live?

I’m positive that this will primarily remove the fear and obstacles they had related to starting to acquire digital skills. This project is perfect for giving them an overview and explaining them basic things about most of the areas of the virtual world. As they are going to be in a group, they are going to be able to see that they are not the only ones who don’t have a clue. If we succeed in helping them overcome their fear of technology, and in motivating them to start improving their skills, we would have done a lot.


Thank you, Sasa, for the great insights and amazing work you are doing on the field!