With increased electronic communication leaving many members of older generations behind, a partnership between the Microsoft Corporation and the National 4-H Council has mobilized an energized group of 4-H Technology Changemakers to help provide resources and training to level the playing field.
One of the first sites selected to begin implementing the 4-H Tech Changemakers program was Murray County, Georgia, where 4-H youth began working with older individuals living in rural communities on the value and use of technology and digitalization.
“An average of 20 to 25 youth became active 4-H Tech Changemakers,” said Stephanie Skojac, a 4-H agent with University of Georgia Cooperative Extension in Murray County. “An average of 15 older adults would attend monthly meetings at the senior center, where the youth would act as the teachers in order to bridge the digital divide in our community.”
As modern technology becomes a more integral part of everyday life, many older members of the community find it challenging to acquire new digital skills on their own.
4-H Tech Changemakers is designed to bridge the digital divide between generations with a strategy geared toward combining the accessibility and affordability of broadband internet with the willingness of community members to adopt and use new technology
With an increased number of people confined to their homes due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the need for electronic equity is greater than ever.
“Although this project began long before the COVID-19 pandemic, we have seen the impacts of the digital divide now more than ever,” said Kasey Bozeman, UGA Extension 4-H specialist for science and environmental education. “A strong body of research indicates that people are less likely to purchase internet services if they do not have strong digital literacy skills. Not only can 4-H youth teach these skills to their peers and adults, but they can also advocate for this critical need that benefits their entire community.”
The Murray County program began serving members at the local senior center, a hub for citizens over the age of 50 to gather and gain access to a variety of services. Seeing a greater need for digital literacy and resources within their community, youth from fourth through 12th grades had the opportunity to instruct the seniors while gaining their own benefits from the collaboration.
“I found it surprising that the Murray County 4-H Tech Changemakers program not only helped older adults with their digital literacy skills but helped the youth develop leadership skills through teaching,” said Skojac. “Most importantly, it created lasting relationships between these older adults and the youth. They looked forward to seeing one another every month and that made this program very rewarding.”
For youth chosen to lead this project, the change in perspective has helped them grow and appreciate the progress in their community.
“Seniors are sometimes made to feel dumb when they don’t understand technology,” said Boaz Whealy, a 4-H Tech Changemaker attending Murray County High. “It’s really exciting when they begin to understand and start to love using technology.”