Blacktown Computer Pals - Helping the community hitch a ride on the information super-highway

I recently had a chance to spend some time with Computer Pals at Blacktown.

Computer Pals was set up ten years ago by Ellen Long. Ellen figured out early on that people over 55 years old needed a hand grappling with technology, computers and the information super-highway.

At her place at Kent Street, near Blacktown Showground, she started her first computer classes, opening the eyes of seniors to the usefulness of PCs in day to day life.

She and some dedicated volunteers converted a number of rooms into training rooms, with PCs connected by a maze of ethernet cables - all designed to simultaneously teach groups of students about the ins and outs of Microsoft Word and Excel, how to surf the net and - in time - how to make VoiP calls.

By the time Ellen decided to hand over the reins to a new generation of volunteers, the popularity of the classes was well established (helped in part by the fact that a lot of social events had been organised around the classes).

Within their rented premise, there are two rooms available for classes. In the main room they have 13 computers that are all networked to a dedicated server, with connections to broadband internet, printers, scanners, and a photocopier. The smaller room has seven computers.

Nearly 40 volunteers put in the hours to help Computer Pals meet the needs of over 150 students, who file into 22 classes on a weekly basis.

But while the class sizes are getting bigger, something else is happening - a drop in the age of the people knocking on Computer Pals door seeking their help.

When I met up with Ellen and Computer Pals Vice President Wendie Lambert, I learned how it was not uncommon for some 40 year olds to seek help navigating their way around computers.

We take it for granted that so much of our social interaction takes place across cyberspace.

Imagine the plight of 45 year old builders who scratch their heads when confronted with the instruction "you have to email us a PDF of your plans". Where do you start when the last computer you recalled working might have been a Commodore 64?

Computer Pals has survived and grown by stringing together support through CDSC funding and support from local government, but the demands on their time and help are growing.

And it's obvious from their experiences that they have only encountered the edge of a blind spot that sits between an ageing population and the ever changing face of technology.

With more and more government and business services being funnelled onto the net, and with educational avenues for support targeted largely to the young, Computer Pals is showing us that there is a need to think laterally about our notion of social inclusion to ensure that through training and support we can we open up the world of computers and the internet to a generation that never needed to worry about SMS, online banking, Facebook and Skype calls.

Thanks to Computer Pals for meeting up with me.
Do you like this post?
Ed Husic MP
Federal Labor Member for Chifley

Ed supports