They're going digital in villages across Co Wexford
It's free and it's transforming lives. David Looby reports on a computer literacy course that's getting Wexford people online in rural communities throughout the county
A free computing literacy course which has been rolled out at village halls across the county has transformed the lives of scores of people.
The Irish Rural Link Getting Citizens Online course was first run in Gusserane Hall in January and over the course of six weeks several people were educated in everything from computer hardware to computer software, growing in confidence week by week.
From setting up an email address to shopping and paying car tax online, the course gives people the basic skills they need to use a computer in a way that will make their life easier, whilst boosting their confidence in this digital speak age.
Anna Kehoe is the co-ordinator of Irish Rural Link said the programme - which is run through the Department of Communications - will be available in all rural parts of Co Wexford over the coming years.
The course is run by computer expert Jim Foran who brings ten laptops to the halls for people to use.
Anna said: 'The Citizens Online program has been an absolutely roaring success. We have completed our first course in Gusserane with participants ranging in ages from their sixties to their eighties.'
An Agri computer course is run in tandem with the Getting Citizen's Online course.
'Initially it was through the IFA's Farm Finance Committee. There was a problem rolling it out in Wexford. Someone wanted to run it in libraries but that's not rolling it out to the people but you will not get your average reluctant person to go into a library. First they would have to get their foot inside a library, which, for some, would be an unfamiliar environment. Lots of these people are used to their local hall where they can be around their own people.'
One problem Anna encountered was the lack of broadband in some villages but with the help of Jim she was able to have it set up in the halls.
She said the course has empowered participants in countless ways.
'So much has been taken out of rural communities and this is putting something back in.'
Demand for the courses has been growing because of word of mouth.
'I contact people and said to them "everyone of you know someone who knows someone who could do with some training on a computer". Some of the participants almost had to be bet in the door for the first session for them it was worse than going to the dentist but by the second session they were loving it.'
There are five free two-hour sessions, which run in the morning and early afternoon and the Agri class is run from 7 p.m. till 9 p.m.
People up to any age are welcome to join a class. 'We have an absolutely brilliant tutor in Jim Foran. This is for someone who has never used a computer. People are amazed to learn that they have been using a computer for years as their car is operated by a computer, as is their dishwasher and microwave etc.'
Anna said many people feel like they are being left behind in the fast-paced, high-tech modern world, adding that the course has had an empowering effect on participants.
She said many people feel excluded in conversations.
'They see their child on a computer or tablet and they have their own tech stuff at home and they know what they had. All they needed was to be prepared so it gives them a total sense of empowerment and now they can use smart-phones and banks. We are rolling it out throughout the county,' she added.
For some, the last time they were in a school-like setting a culture of fear prevailed. That's gone. In fact there is quite a bit of anticipation. I think it's a marvellous idea. Imagine being driven and someone brings you out into the middle of a mighty field with no electricity pole in it and then someone takes you out on the road: it's that feeling of freedom.'
The Agri course provides farmers with an easy, hassle free way to do their livestock books, meaning they don't have to carry around the dreaded blue book with them for inspections.
Anna said: 'Every farmer registers to use an online service on the Department of Agriculture website. The department sends you a five digit number and your password and then you are registered online and then they can have everything to do with their livestock. The difference between that and doing it manually in the famous blue book is enormous. You can register your calves and get the Government certificate online. You can go in and see every profile of your herd and click on an identifier number. It's a one-stop-shop for farmers. These guys who are doing the course don't know themselves. It opens up a world of possibilities to them. You can see the light going on in the third lesson and them thinking "Oh, I can do this".
The course is currently available at the following village halls: Gusserane, Ballyculllane, Kilmore Quay, Duncannon, Newbawn, Camross, Stella Maris, at Enniscorthy Farm Centre and Grantstown day care centre near Wellingtonbridge.
Course provider Jim Foran said the Getting Citizens Online course has revolutionised their lives and how they communicate, including using Skype.
With the post office and garda station closures, fear was creeping into rural communities and the Getting Citizens Online courses have helped to bridge that gap, he said.
'There are a few in their twenties, thirties and forties. They are classes for beginners but they do learn fast. There are five lessons and training is provided on computers on everything from hardware ports to software and how Windows and desktop icons work.'
Jim has 19 years experience in computers with his business Foran Computers.
At the course sessions he advises participants on the need for security when they are online. 'Some of them have a glazed look come over their face in the first class. We interact an awful lot and I really need them to interact for it to work.'
Jim gives each participant a manual at the first class which helps them learn computing jargon.
He is busy, running nine courses per week. He said everyone, bar one or two, catch on quickly. 'They are hungry for it and when they grasp it they get really excited. From learning how to do their motor tax online to finding their Eircode they are finding it really useful in practical ways. This is a survival guide post the post office closures. There is a lot of fear about going online but they are taught everything they need to know and how secure everything is.'
Jim said he finds running the courses very rewarding. 'It's very informal. People like coming in and we have a cup of tea at the hour break mark. We have a bit of a laugh. If someone is socially disadvantaged like a single mother with young children, and people who have fallen through the gaps in the modern world, this is for them.'
There are people who come in who are a bit shy and then they really show a lot of intelligence and really surprise themselves in the way they get a handle on the course, he added.
'People have come up to me after and say thanks for the encouragement.'
He said farmers are very grateful as they no longer have to physically fill out forms.
'The Agri course is where the farmers who would all have a herd number login to the www.agfood.ie site and once registered they can use the AIM (Animal Identification and Movement) system to view herd profile, register calves and apply for movement compliance certificates with a few clicks of a mouse. A lot of the work they were doing can now be done instantly online. They interact well with each other and they are doing it in a real life situation as we have dummy log-ins to the Agfood.ie website. We give them calf tags so they can do birth registrations. It's like online gaming: once it begins to sink in their eyes light up and it gives them confidence.'