“It's never too late to learn.” How libraries help older people overcome fear and master computer technology

April 24, 2024

Over 3,000 Digital Education Hubs libraries continue teaching Ukrainians digital literacy despite war.

Photo: Andrii Krepkykh / UNDP in Ukraine

Think about libraries, and you no longer think only about books – they have become information hubs, with access to computers and the Internet.

And in Ukraine, where a lack of digital skills and devices with access to the Internet are one of the main reasons why people do not use the Internet and electronic services, they have taken on the extremely important function of teaching people digital literacy.

Here are the stories of eight older people from different parts of the country who, after training in libraries, were able to overcome their fear of computers, and gain digital skills that helped them access a host of useful services. 

This is the first in a series of stories about users of Digital Education Hubs, who prove by their own examples why digital literacy is important – and that it is never too late to learn.

Mastering technologies, and being able to communicate with relatives

Kateryna Mareha, from Poltava Oblast in east-central Ukraine, is 67. Because of the war, her relatives went abroad, and she almost lost contact with them: Although she had a laptop, she did not know how to use it. 

Then she learned from a local newspaper and from other library users that she could learn the digital skills she needed at a public library hub, and she reached out to them for help.

Having completed her studies, 67-year-old Kateryna Mareha can now communicate with her children and grandchildren from abroad. Photo: Dykanska Public Library, Poltava Oblast

She came to the library with her laptop for three weeks of individual lessons. First, she learned the basic ways to search for information on the Internet, then she created her own e-mail box so she could write to her relatives, and after some time she registered with the videophone service Skype in order to be able to fully communicate with her children and grandchildren. The hardest part was learning how to use the programme and the search engines, but in the end, with the support of the library coordinators, she was successful.

Today, Mareha can confidently advise other people who do not know how to use a smartphone, computer, and the Internet, but want to master new technologies, to contact their local Digital Education Hub, which can provide them with free access to the Internet and the opportunity to learn at a convenient time.

“Digital literacy is an indispensable skill. With digital skills, everyone has much more opportunities to improve their lives,” she says.

Liudmyla Sydor from Zakarpattia Oblast in western Ukraine was left alone at the age of 78, her relatives having gone abroad. To keep in touch, her son gave her a phone and a tablet, but she did not know how to use them – indeed she was afraid to use them. Apart from turning the phone on and off, Sydor had difficulties even answering calls and finding numbers to call back. So after her local library announced it was forming group classes on digital literacy for older people, she went there for help.

Liudmyla Sydor now can see how her grandchildren are growing up, communicating with them using messengers. Photo: Vynohradivka Central Public Library #1, Zakarpattia Oblast

Her peer group practiced twice a week. Despite the fact that this was her first experience of studying at such an adult age, Sydor studied hard, trying not to miss a single class, and making careful notes so as not to forget anything. 

Together with her classmates, she completed a course on basic digital literacy on the Diia.Osvita online education platform, and was awarded a certificate of completion.

Every day of a month of painstaking work paid off – she learned how to easily use a smartphone and tablet, and can now communicate with her children and grandchildren using social networks and messengers.

Library coordinator Kateryna Vasylivna Romushko, who conducted the classes, is proud of her students’ achievements.

“A month of study passed like a day,” Romushko says. “I’m very pleased and even proud of my students when I see their eyes satisfied with what they have learned. Teaching others is not an easy job, but it brought a positive result.”

And Sydor also continues to visit the hub from time to time if she has any questions. 

“Having started my studies, I realised that my life will become more interesting and varied, and the most important thing is that I will be able not only to hear my relatives and friends, but also to see them, to see how my grandchildren, who live very far from me, are growing up,” Sydor says. “I advise all people of the older generation – and not only them, anyone who has not yet mastered a smartphone or a tablet – not to be shy and learn to make their life and leisure time easier. Life will be more interesting,” she assures.
Operating the Internet and a smartphone helps to save money

Tetiana Deiner, a pensioner from the city of Liuboml, in Volyn Oblast in the north-west of Ukraine, has been an active reader at her local public library for 20 years. After seeing the information about the work of the Digital Education Hub, she decided to join the training in order to master the smartphone.

Having learned how to use an online tool for comparing medicine prices, Tetiana Deiner is now saving money. Photo: Liubomlsk Public Library, Volyn Oblast

Her classes together with the librarian began with the online course “Basic digital skills for people of an elegant age” on the Diia.Education platform. This is a joint educational product of the Ministry of Digital Transformation, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) in Ukraine, and Sweden. A short series, it is designed to show people how to use a smartphone, computer, and the Internet in the most common life situations, including how to register an e-mail address, send a message in an instant messenger, or to transfer money.

During the lessons, the students learned how to pay utility bills online, and how to use various online stores to make safe online purchases. They also learned about a range of smartphone functions, how to download mobile applications, and how to work with them.

One discovery for Deiner was the Tabletki.ua site, which allows you to check the availability of medicines in pharmacies and order them online. So having learned how to use the Internet, she now saves a significant amount of money on medicines: “It’s very convenient that you can track the price of any medicine, see if it’s available, place an order, and then come and pick it up. It really saves my time and money,” Deiner says.

Thanks to taking the course on digital literacy, Deiner significantly increased the level of her digital knowledge and her ability to use it in everyday situations. She says that this has made her life more comfortable and convenient, and has contributed to personal development, helping her in solving her own problems, and saving herself time. She advises others like her to go for digital literacy training in their local library.

From being afraid to use technology to being a confident laptop user

Mariia Panko, 61, heads a local club in the village of Huta, Ivano-Frankivsk Oblast in western Ukraine. But as she worked, she found she constantly needed good digital skills, which she lacked. So she turned to her local Digital Education Hub for help.

Mariia Panko proves by her own example that by putting fears aside, one can master any skill. Photo: Library of the Huta village in the Solotvyn territorial community, Ivano-Frankivsk Oblast

At first she learned to use a smartphone, and then later how to work with a laptop. In individual lessons with a hub coordinator and in a group, she watched an educational series about basic digital skills on the Diia.Osvita portal, and then learned to use the Microsoft Word word-processing programme. 

Having started her studies without knowing how to use a smartphone, computer, or laptop, Panko now knows how to print documents, embed images in text, and she now actively uses the Facebook social network and the Viber messenger, YouTube and Google search, and is also learning to use the Pryvat24 mobile banking application.

Panko advises everyone who is afraid of using Internet devices to put aside their fears and start learning.

“Knowing how to use a smartphone, laptop, and the Internet is very convenient, because at any moment you can get yourself up to date with all the latest news, new events, find something interesting for yourself: recipes, music, and movies for every taste. I’m currently studying, and am satisfied with the results,” Panko says. “I advise all people of the older generation – and not only them, anyone who has not yet mastered a smartphone or a tablet – not to be shy and learn to make their life and leisure time easier. Life will be more interesting,” she assures.
Digital skills open up access to useful information

Thanks to her new digital skills, pensioner Svitlana Zhuk now knows how to pay for utilities online, and now always manages to pay them on time. Photo: Teofipol Central Library, Khmelnytskyi Oblast

Pensioner Svitlana Zhuk, 54, has been an active reader at the Teofipol Central Library in Khmelnytskyi Oblast in west-central Ukraine for more than ten years. She actively participates in public life, and is interested in cooking, medicine, and popular home remedies. However, she could not find information on the topics that interested her on the Internet, because she had neither digital skills nor a computer at home. Therefore, she decided to go to the library to study digital literacy.

At the very beginning, on the advice of a hub coordinator, Zhuk took a course on basic digital skills on the Diia.Osvita platform. Later, she became interested in a more specialized series – “Confectioner,” “Baker,” as she herself had worked in this field in the past. Later, when questions arose regarding the payment of utility services and the transfer of utilities meter readings, she again turned to the library for help. After watching an online course on paying utility bills online with the help of hub coordinators, she created personal pages as an electricity and gas supply consumer. Later, she learned to submit meter readings and now pays for her utilities online, and on time.

Zhuk is delighted with her studies. She continues to visit the library to learn new things and advises her friends to do the same. She bought a modern smartphone and is now mastering it with the help of a librarian.

“In today's world, people need to learn digital skills so much,” Zhuk says. “No matter which organization I go to, you have to know how to use a computer. I studied it at the library for free. Now I can go to my personal webpages by myself, but if I don't know something, I ask a librarian for help.” “Digital skills make our lives much easier. The main thing is to be able to use them correctly and safely.”“I advise all people of the older generation – and not only them, anyone who has not yet mastered a smartphone or a tablet – not to be shy and learn to make their life and leisure time easier. Life will be more interesting,” she assures.
Having learned to pay for utilities, helps others

Mariia from Volyn Oblast in north-western Ukraine is proof that age is no obstacle to learning new technologies and achieving success in the digital world. At the age of 67, she decided to master the skill of paying utility bills online. She turned to the Ratniv Centre for Cultural Services in Volyn Oblast for help.

Together with a hub coordinator, she gained the news skills step by step, learning not only about the advantages of online payments, but also how to use different payment systems and electronic money.

Mariia proved to be a diligent student, preparing for classes in advance, constantly seeking to study and improve her skills. And after just a few weeks of training, she began confidently making online payments for electricity, water, and gas supplies, all by herself. Then she herself began to advise others who wanted to learn how to do this as well, amazing her friends and neighbours with her courage and determination.

Studying in the library helps overcome a fear of technology

From May to November, digital literacy training for older people was organized in Branch Library No. 1 in the city of Novovolynsk, in Volyn Oblast, in north-western Ukraine. Two groups of five people each week learned digital skills together with Digital Hub coordinators.

Halyna Batohovska and Nadiia Myronchuk learned digital skills – and overcame their fear of computers. Photo: Library-branch No. 1 of the Novovolynsk centralized library system, Volyn Oblast

Two of them – Halyna Batohovska and Nadiia Myronchuk – are pensioners, and are both over 65 years old. The women wanted to become digitally literate because they felt they needed digital skills in everyday life. 

“Because the children gave me a new smartphone, I needed to understand how to use it,” says Myronchuk. “It was difficult for me to learn new things. I was afraid to press something wrong – what if it suddenly broke?” “Digital skills make our lives much easier. The main thing is to be able to use them correctly and safely.”“I advise all people of the older generation – and not only them, anyone who has not yet mastered a smartphone or a tablet – not to be shy and learn to make their life and leisure time easier. Life will be more interesting,” she assures.

The women learned from a post on a social network that training in digital skills were being held in their local Digital Education Hub library. They started attending group classes and, if necessary, they also took individual lessons. Both took online courses on basic digital skills on the Diia.Osvita portal, learned how to use a smartphone, computer, and a tablet.

Batohovska says that the most difficult thing was to overcome the fear of using a computer and a mouse, and to search for information on the Internet. However, her newfound digital literacy has helped her overcome her fear of using a smartphone. All the efforts were worth it – now she is happy to be able to keep pace with the times and communicate with others on messengers.

Myronchuk is now also a confident smartphone user, and can pay her utility bills using a mobile application. And from the courses, she learned how to distinguish between real and fake information, which is an important component of online safety.

In 2024, the library is once again hosting a new set of free digital literacy training courses for older people and internally displaced people – now in a renewed and renovated modern space.

How Digital Education Hubs Libraries work – and where they came from

Older people are impacted the most by the digital divide in Ukraine – they are the least likely to use the Internet: In 2023, only 50% of older people were online every day, whilst almost a third of them did not use the Internet at all[1]. Among the three main reasons for this are a lack of skills and the lack of a device with access to the Internet. Not knowing how to use a smartphone, computer, and the Internet directly affects the quality of older people’s lives and impacts how they consume information, receive public services, and communicate with their relatives.

In order to give people more opportunities to learn digital literacy offline, from 2020 the Ministry of Digital Transformation initiated the creation of Digital Education Hubs across the country. Conceived as public spaces, equipped with computers and with access to the Internet, they allow anyone to come and obtain digital skills – in particular by studying online courses from the Diia.Education platform. Most of the hubs have been set up at local libraries.

Of the more than 6,000 hubs set up before the start of the full-scale war, about half are still working in Ukraine today. Despite all the wartime challenges, they continue to teach people digital skills. They hold group classes or work individually with people, and conduct specialized training for children, teachers, or civil servants, as well as hosting various lectures and art events.

Development of the hub network is supported by the Ministry of Digital Transformation and the UNDP in Ukraine, with funding from Sweden. Since 2021, together with the Ukrainian Library Association – a key organisation that unites the country's libraries and promotes their development – these partners are working to help develop the competencies of the hub libraries’ coordinators to enable them to teach people digital literacy even more effectively.

During 2023, hundreds of library users across the country were trained in digital literacy as part of this joint project. Their stories clearly prove that increasing digital literacy is a necessary prerequisite for digitalisation to be truly accessible and useful for all people, and that it is never too late to master it.

The project “Digital Education Hubs Libraries Capacity Development,” which was launched in October 2022, was implemented by the Ministry of Digital Transformation in cooperation with the Ukrainian Library Association and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) in Ukraine as part of the DIA Support Project, with funding from Sweden. 

[1] All-Ukrainian survey of the Kyiv International Institute of Sociology, conducted in 2023 at the request of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) in Ukraine, with the support of Sweden and in partnership with the Ministry of Digital Transformation of Ukraine.