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Last Updated: Monday, 21 May 2007, 10:57 GMT 11:57 UK
Silver surfers conquer their fear
By Hannah Goff
BBC News education reporter

Jim Tuckwell
Jim was once not at all confident in front of a PC
Seventeen years ago Jim Tuckwell quit his job as a clerical officer because he did not want to use computers.

Now the 77-year-old is so confident of his computer skills he is helping elderly computer virgins to break through the fear barrier and get online themselves.

It's all part of a campaign during Adult Learners' Week to get older people to join the digital age.

Jim, who was named Silver Surfer of the Year in 2006, will be one of scores of friendly teachers assisting nervous novices on hundreds of internet taster courses for Silver Surfers' Day across England at the end of May.

The internet enthusiast from Andover, Hampshire, puts his technological success in the autumn of his life down to having a good teacher and a bit of staying power.

She never lost her temper if you asked her the same question again and again
Jim Tuckwell on his teacher

"When my employers started to get into computers we weren't very well taught.

"They just put us in a big room and showed us what we needed to know on a big board. Then they gave us tests. It just didn't work."

But fortunately 13 years later, Jim was offered the chance to go on a computer course at the sheltered housing scheme where he lives.

"The big thing was we had a superb teacher. She had time for the slow as well as the fast and she never taught more than 10 at a time.

"Also she never lost her temper if you asked her the same question again and again," he said.

Jim believes some elderly people freeze in front of a computer because they fear doing some irrevocable damage to it.

Vinyl search

"They are afraid. They think if they make a mistake they will smash it up, that they will break the computer and then someone's going to make them cough up.

"So when I teach people, I make sure I do some deliberate mistakes and show them what happens - nothing."

Now Jim uses his computer and the internet to keep in touch with his friends and family on the other side of the world and to do his Christmas shopping.

"We are only a small town in Andover. So instead of getting on a bus and going to Winchester or Salisbury I do it on the internet."

He also uses it to track down vinyl records of the Victorian ballads and musicals that he features in the musical talks he presents to fellow OAPs in his neighbourhood.

He has also used his IT skills to help set up an anti-bullying campaign at a local primary school after a skirmish with some badly behaved youngsters one evening.


"What happened was I was abused by some young children in town who wouldn't let me get into the bus station in the pouring rain."

Instead of playing the victim, he got together with some friends to produce a book and a toy duck that schools can use to put children off bullying.

"We have cut the bullying by the kids at my local school. We have been trying to teach them that bullying is just not on and they seem to accept that now.

"What I like about it is that if they see me in town they come up and see me and tell me how they are and everything they are doing."

Jim also helps struggling readers at his local primary school twice a week and has a real sense of achievement when he sees his young charges take steps forward.

Jim with some of the children he helps
Many older people are frightened of damaging computers, says Jim

But he also believes that in this hi-tech world, not being able to use a computer can be a bit like not being able to read.

"There was a lad last week and he kept getting stuck on these three words 'I am brave'.

"Whenever he came up to them he stumbled but I kept encouraging him.

"Before I left I said let's have one more go with those words.

"He tried and this time he got it - his eyes lit up and it really made my day.

"It's the same with computers, perseverance is what you need."

And for the computer refusers among us, perhaps a little bit of the young lad's bravery too.

Jim will be helping out at Andover Library on Wednesday 23 May. For details of your nearest free, or nearly free, computer taster session for Silver Surfers' Day on or around 25 May call 0800 100 900.

Invitation for 'silver surfers'
22 May 06 |  Technology
IT support for your parents
10 Jan 05 |  Magazine

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