Putting my Chinese chops to the test

I have added yet another experience on my trainer’s journey — training senior citizens to use tablets and laptops, and conducting the class in Chinese.  I am amazed with my own feat.  While I am comfortable conversing in Chinese Mandarin, conducting 2-day workshops totally in Chinese on IT topics, albeit very basic computing, is a whole different game!

Someone I knew introduced me to the boss of a local computer school chain.  With Skills Future credit available to all Singaporeans, these training providers are making good business.  Whatever they are charging for one course, 90% of it is claimed from the government.  The remaining 10% of the course fee is paid by the trainee but the computer school helps these senior citizens claim back from their Skills Future credit of S$500.  The result, these computer courses become free for the senior citizens and the computer schools get to cover all their costs.  Win-win situation.  And these new citizens learn new skills.  With the government promoting Digital Citizenship, there is a lot of interests out there for everyone to learn computers.

In terms of training the trainer, the school said I could either register for the courses, and pay for them, myself, or sit in for a 2-hour session.  I didn’t want to sit through 2-days of tablet and 2-days of PC — waste of my time — and pay for these — I have already used up my Skills Future credit.  So, I sat in for 2-hours and got to see the trainer in action.  He was a young Malaysian chap who could speak English, Chinese and Malay.  I thought his training was good given the multilingual students.  I tried to help this Chinese-speaking auntie sitting in front of me and got a taste of what it would be like to teach senior citizens.  Basically, lots of patience!

The curriculum we are following is as per the ICDL certification.  The computer school provided all teaching slides and handouts in English and Chinese, so that made it easier for me to teach.  Unfortunately, the training booklet is entirely in English, which isn’t useful for these senior citizens who has limited English.  So an area for improvement.  At the end of the 2-day class, there is also an online feedback form for all students.  Again, it is only available in English which isn’t useful.  As trainers, we help the students complete the form and explain the gist of the questions but it is not their true feedback at the per-question level.  So another area for improvement.

The first class I was assigned was a 2-day tablet class.  I was told at the start of the class that the 15 students have requested an all-Chinese class.  Could I say no?  Would be good to know ahead of time so that I could have spent more time reading the Chinese slides.  I struggled along and asked for help with some of the Chinese words that I was not familiar with.  Overall, I did ok although following the entire syllabus to the T was challenging.  It was not always easy for these senior citizens to swipe the screen or tap on links and icons — precision wasn’t always achievable.  And they couldn’t always tell the difference between tapping versus holding down.  Most of the questions were about their mobile phones — I guess it is the closest thing to the tablet since most don’t own one.

My second class was a 2-day PC class.  Teaching them to create Word documents was difficult, especially since most of them couldn’t type nor recognise the alphabets.  Even upper versus lower case was challenging.  In fact, controlling the mouse was difficult for these senior citizens who are not as agile and unable to move the mouse and click with accuracy.  I can see why the tablet may be useful since they can apply what they learn to their smart phone.  But I can’t see how the PC skills would be relevant since they don’t own a PC at home.  Most say their children/grandchildren would not let them touch their home PC.  Whatever.  I am paid to teach, not question relevance.

Teaching senior citizens is sometimes similar to teaching children — you need a lot of patience.  They don’t always listen and can be engaged in their own conversations while I am teaching.  But at least the class size is small — my smallest was 5 students, my biggest was 15 so far.  And it is the same material every tablet and every PC class.  Sure, there is a lot of repetition because senior citizens forget easily, but children are the same too.

I am now in my second month of teaching and have 4 classes under my belt with a 5th starting next weekend.  The pay is OK and it is relatively easy to teach as long as you have the patience.  I am getting better and more comfortable with teaching in Chinese.  So overall, it is a good experience and I am learning valuable lessons in Chinese and patience.  But I think boredom may set in eventually.  For now, it helps to pay the bills and I feel like I am doing my part to make a difference in the lives of these senior citizens who are still keen to learn new skills.  I am a sucker for lifelong learning.

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