Innovative Practice - Sharing digital skills

14th October 2011 at 01:00
Pupils turn their hands to teaching to help senior citizens become more tech-savvy

The background

A discussion in a Year 7 ICT lesson took an unexpected turn at Avonbourne, an all-girls school in Bournemouth. Kathryn Loughnan, head of ICT, had been talking with pupils about the digital divide, and how some members of the older generation might feel more comfortable looking up information in the Yellow Pages than browsing the internet. This led some of the girls to suggest that they would like to help teach senior citizens how to use digital technology.

The project

The next year, Ms Loughnan and four of her pupils decided to launch a series of weekly training sessions at the school for local pensioners. Before the sessions started, they set up a partnership with a local web-design company and held a focus group for senior citizens to find out what kind of teaching would be most helpful. The focus group, attended by former Blue Peter presenter Valerie Singleton, helped the pupils realise that the pensioners did not feel comfortable asking questions in large classes.

So the girls decided they would offer bespoke one-to-one training. Sessions are now held every Tuesday afternoon at the school, and 12 pupils work with the pensioners while Ms Loughnan makes them tea.

"Each group has found that they have misconceptions about each other," Ms Loughnan says. "Some of the older generation can be a bit mistrusting because of the negative stereotypes about young people in the media, so they tell me how surprised they are that the girls are so lovely and helpful."

More than 100 senior citizens have received support through the scheme, which was originally known as Internet Rangers and has since been professionally rebranded as Digi Steps.

Tips from the scheme

- Get pupils to train with each other first before they start trying to teach senior citizens.

- Use role-play, with one pupil instructing and another trying to pretend to be a pensioner. Tell them that the instructor cannot touch the mouse themselves - they may find it difficult to resist the temptation to grab it.

- Have faith in your pupils: there is a good chance they are more computer-savvy than you are.

Evidence that it works

The scheme has been given several major awards, including the prime minister's Big Society Award and a Princess Diana award. David Cameron said the pupils were "providing a much-valued service for others in their community, while developing their own skills and business sense at the same time".

However, Ms Loughnan says that the best sign of the scheme's effectiveness is the aptitude of some of the senior citizens who have taken part in the course, who are now comfortable using software such as Skype and websites including eBay. One silver surfer, Keran Tanswell, says: "Tuesday afternoon is the highlight of my week, such an enjoyable time with my young friends." More information on the scheme is available at

The Project

Approach: A scheme where pupils train senior citizens in using digital technology

Started: 2009

Leader: Kathryn Loughnan, head of ICT

The school

Name: Avonbourne School

Location: Bournemouth, Dorset

Type: Specialist business and enterprise college and trust school

Number of pupils: 1,063

Age range: 11-16

Intake: All girls. Inspectors say the school serves "a socially and economically diverse community" and faces competition from selective and non-selective schools

Ofsted overall rating: Good.

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