China seeks to bridge digital divide for elderly

BEIJING, Nov. 26 (Xinhua) — At a smartphone training class for the elderly held in a residential community in Xiamen, southeast China’s Fujian Province, several senior citizens are quietly fiddling with their devices following the teacher’s instructions.

Li Guosheng, 75, who has signed up for two classes to learn how to use a smartphone, is among China’s expanding elderly population trying to keep up with the pace of digitalization.

For Li, getting to grips with the latest gadgets is no easy task. “We become more forgetful with age, so some things must be studied repeatedly to truly get the hang of it,” he said.

While the building of a digital China has brought considerable convenience to many, the country is taking action to tackle the growing digital divide for the elderly and make sure they share the benefits of a smart society.

The government on Tuesday issued a plan specifying measures to help the elderly overcome barriers to using smart technologies while maintaining traditional services for them.

The plan, issued by the General Office of the State Council, sets objectives for the 2020-2022 period focusing on seven types of services and scenarios frequently encountered by the elderly, such as medical treatment, recreational activities, and civic services.

As epidemic prevention and control becomes a regular practice in China, public places that require visitors to produce QR codes generated through mobile applications before entering could prove troublesome for many old-aged residents.

Such procedures will be optimized while basic services will be offered to senior citizens from the convenience of their homes, read the plan, calling for improvements to secure emergency services for the elderly.

To ensure better access to ride-hailing and medical treatment, the plan urged efforts to help the elderly make appointments by providing diversified channels and simplifying the procedures for making appointments online.

Businesses frequently visited by the elderly should accept cash payments and bank cards, it noted, underscoring the importance of retaining traditional financial service modes while making online consumption more convenient for this group.

“For many elderly people who are unable to use smartphones or make mobile payments, the advances of technology quickly become a barrier,” said Wang Tanling, an official with the National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC), or the top economic planner.

Li, still a novice at using smart gadgets, said he is more than willing to learn more about the new functions of the internet, despite the fact that his senior university has halted classes amid COVID-19 prevention measures.

To better help the elderly integrate into the digital society, the plan listed measures such as increasing the supply of senior-friendly products, redesigning smart devices and internet applications, and enhancing technology training.

It is a long-term task to coordinate the development of intelligent technologies with society’s pace of aging, said Wang, citing official data that by the end of 2019 China’s elderly population aged 60 and above reached 254 million, accounting for 18.1 percent of the total.

He called for simultaneous efforts to adapt technological developments to the needs of the elderly and to improve traditional services. “This requires joint efforts from the whole society,” he said.

By the end of 2022, the quality and convenience of smart services for the elderly will be significantly improved, online and offline services will be better coordinated, and long-term mechanisms bridging the digital divide will be established, according to the plan.

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