By Frank Mark Rabena and Julianna Davis
In our fast-paced digital world, many of our senior community members are slower to catch up to technology advancements that can benefit their daily lives. Communicating with grandchildren and other loved ones who have moved away or paying bills online are just two examples.
This summer Open Schools, which was launched with a founding grant from the Stavros Niarchos Foundation (SNF), provided a new free program in collaboration with OTEAcademy, geared to residents 60+ called “Tεχνολογία για Όλους” or “Technology for All”. The program facilitates a learning environment of inclusivity, designed to educate citizens on how to use and take advantage of smart devices.
Through the Athens Open Schools program 20 schools across the city remain open in the evening and on weekends, offering free activities for all age groups. The City of Athens program, which has had more than 36,000 participants, was launched by the Athens Partnership in collaboration with the Municipality with a founding grant from the SNF and has additional support for activities from the John S. Latsis Public Benefit Foundation.
OTEAcademy representative Dimitra Papageorgopoulou said, “the main point of the program is to eliminate the fear that comes with using a smart device.” She described the anxiety that many elderly have when interacting with technology as a “fear of the unknown” reaction. When asked what she finds most rewarding about leading this program, she answered that she was impressed by the willingness each person had to learn about a device that was invented a generation or two after them.
Ms. Papageorgopoulou noted the enthusiasm that these senior students brought to the classroom, including a woman who lost her husband, yet still attended every session with a smile.
When speaking with participants of the program, we were moved by their eagerness to learn and the sense of community in the room. They specifically wanted to learn how to surf the web, view different pictures, and make payments via online banking.
Attendees came from Ilisia, Pagkrati, and even as far as Argyroupoli, making a 45-minute commute using public transportation, to join the class for the purpose of learning, building their digital skills and forging new relationships with their peers. When asked how they found out about the Athens Open Schools program, they said they learned about it through newspapers, their local Cosmote shop and the radio. Following this program, they can now find out about more opportunities on the internet (perhaps after a FaceTime call with a favorite grandchild!)
Julianna Davis and Frank Mark Rabena served as Athens Partnership summer interns through the National Hellenic Society (NHS) Heritage Greece program. The Heritage Greece Program is a two-week cultural and educational immersion odyssey for accomplished Greek American college students who share their experience with a peer group of students from the American College of Greece in Athens. The Program’s goal is to reconnect participants with their heritage, roots, language, history, and traditions.