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Older Australians dipping their toes in the digital world

New research shows Australians, especially seniors, are taking full advantage of online learning opportunities thanks to the Turnbull Government's National Broadband Network (NBN).

New research from a number of different groups is indicating varying feedback on older Australians and the digital world (Source: Shutterstock)
New research from a number of different groups is indicating varying feedback on older Australians and the digital world (Source: Shutterstock)

The findings come from the Connecting Australia report commissioned by NBN Co and launched this month at Parliament House by the Minister for Communications, Senator Mitch Fifield, and the Minister for Aged Care Ken Wyatt.

Minister Fifield says the latest research shows NBN is ‘a game changer for education’ and can open up an abundance of new opportunities.

“Access to fast and reliable broadband, no matter where you live, is the key to unlocking a world of opportunities. That is why the Government is focused on ensuring all Australians are able to connect as soon as possible,” he says.

The research shows that almost four out of five NBN users aged 65 and over are engaged in non-formal education, including the completion of new courses, watching materials and learning new languages.

“It’s great to see that there has already been a strong uptake of online learning courses by Australians of all ages, particularly in NBN active areas,” Minister Fifield says.

While the results emanating from the NBN Co report shed a positive light on the network, additional costs and connectivity failures are still consistently reported issues.

The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) broadband monitoring program released a report last month that showed NBN services are still “underperforming” and “physically incapable of supporting” the network speeds they promise.

There were also significant costs and power failure issues to medical alert systems last year, with the CEO of Care Alert, Mike Steele, saying NBN Co fails to care about the safety and wellbeing “of at least 50,000 elderly vulnerable members of society”.

Seniors advocacy group National Seniors has also run its own research with its own members, finding that while many of their members reported as being digitally savvy, many still rated web-based information well down the list to human sources of expertise and advice.

National Seniors Chief Advocate Ian Henschke says that the research from their report titled A Little Help from My Friends: Getting good advice in the Information Age, have huge implications for Governments and other key service providers, such as banks, superannuation funds and utility companies.

“What this tells us is that despite many people, regardless of age, having the skills to find information online, and often using the internet as a resource, they still prefer to consult trusted people when making vital decisions,” Mr Henschke says.

While noting the differing data, Mr Henschke highlights that excluding older people from the online world due to poor digital literacy or no access to devices or the internet, is a human rights issue.

“It’s for this reason we’ve been urging Governments and business to ensure that they ensure that they continue to provide adequate telephone and face-to-face services so that everyone, including those people who aren’t digitally connected, have adequate access to essential information,” he says.

Minister Wyatt, however, firmly believes NBN connectivity is boosting digital opportunities for the older generation.

“Everyone should have the knowledge and confidence to enjoy internet education and services, which is why we’re working with NBN Co through programs like BeConnected to help people get the most out of being online.”

BeConnected, spearheaded by Good Things Foundation, is a network of community organisations who support online inclusion for older Australians.

National Director of the Good Things Foundations, Jessica Wilson, said the NBN research is very promising for older Australians.

“We know there is still more work to do to make sure that all older Australians have the support they need to learn new skills,” she says.

This is the third installment of the Connecting Australia report, which continue to highlight positive impacts of the NBN rollout across the nation.

The full Connecting Australia report is available online here.

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