@Pexels, Andrea Piacquadio
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Hungary’s digital development is well below the EU average. According to the DESI (Digital Economy and Society Index), Hungary ranks 23rd in the ranking of countries. Most of the gaps are in the integration of digital technology. Only 49 percent of the Hungarian population has basic digital skills, compared to 56 percent in the EU. The Digital Success Programme (DJP) is working on improving these statistics. It has been operating as a well-connected and extensive network since 2014. Mentors across the country help old and young learn digital skills and become confident in using smart devices.

Through the National Digitalisation Strategy (NDS), which was adopted in 2021, Hungary aims to be among the top 10 European countries. By 2030, they aim to lower the digital illiteracy rate to 2 percent in the country. To achieve this ambitious goal, the DJP has started an extensive digital transformation process, in which “everyone is a winner,” according to their website.

Distance from smart devices

A mentor shows something on the computer for a woman.
A mentor teaches computer use. @DJP

“In Hungary, especially in small towns, there is a huge digital gap. A large part of the population has not had anything to do with the internet or any smart devices at all,” says Attila Princz, network manager at DJP. A sense of fear mainly determines older people’s attitudes toward technology. Fear about ruining something and causing irreparable damage. The younger generation who live in disadvantaged environments often faces financial obstacles.

Helping the digital inclusion of poorer towns and villages has been ongoing in the country for years. With a particular focus on the development of technological knowledge, the DJP Programme is constantly applying for government grants to continue its fruitful work.  

“These days, the elderly are very much left alone. Especially those who don’t have a partner anymore, are also more vulnerable to mental decline. They need something to fill their daily lives. That’s where we come in with our digital awareness sessions,” Attila says.

Free digital skills sessions

Anyone who needs to improve their digital skills can attend the sessions at DJP locations. Older people, job seekers, or parents who want to know what their children are doing on the internet. Participants are introduced to a comprehensive 24-chapter curriculum of knowledge from small to large groups. Everything from computer and smartphone use, browsing strategies, and online entertainment are covered. Mentors conduct the sessions based on requests from villagers.

“It’s a bit like the old days, when a teacher was the know-it-all in a village. Now, in the 21st century, mentors are the ones who are appreciated and respected by everyone. They also know everyone, their social background, their financial situation, and their capabilities. Therefore, they know exactly who they need to find and convince to come to our sessions,” explains Attila Princz.

Online mentor session at a Digital Success Program point.
Online mentor session at a Digital Success Program point. @DJP

In addition to digital skills, there are lectures on Internet addiction, online harassment, or fake news. The mentors do assessments to see what the locals would benefit from the most. They are working utterly free of charge as a social service. Motivations vary from “it’s good to pass on knowledge” to “it’s good to belong to a community,” according to the DJP Network survey. This forms the basis of a powerful and extensive community. Attila Princz smiles as he talks about it, “During a national meeting of professionals, we could no longer fit in a room with a capacity for 500 people, and we had to stop the registration process.”

A live and proactive network

Attila Princz, program coordinator of the Digital Success Program
Attila Princz, program coordinator of the Digital Success Program. @DJP

The organization was founded in 2003; it was called E-Hungary back then. At that time, the internet was not available throughout the country, only at specific ‘E-Hungary’ locations. “You had to book in advance and then stand in a line an hour or two to use the internet. In 2017, when the internet came to households, the focus of the organization shifted, and it became the Digital Success Programme,” says Attila.

In total, there are 1688 DJP points in the country in almost every second municipality. It took some time to build a proactive, operational structure where information flows quickly and reaches the most distant mentor in minutes. Attila adds, “The network is organized from the bottom up. That’s its strength. We listen to the needs of the locals and design our programs accordingly.”

Kati plays strategy games with a friend in New York

Not only the level of awareness increase as a result of the sessions, but also the demand for different technological tools. As people’s skepticism about the digital world dissolve, they start to enjoy it. Attila has a lot of personal experience, especially with older people:

“István told me that now he won’t have enough time in his life to listen to his favorite songs on YouTube.”

A group of old people are learning how to use the computer.
Learning how to use the computer. @DJP

“Kati plays strategy games. She used to be a lawyer, and when she retired in 1997, she was the last person in the office who still wrote on a typewriter. Young people were already sitting in front of computers, but she refused to learn it. She realizes now that she is interested after all. One of her grandchildren lives in Switzerland, and she wants to keep in touch with her. It also turned out that she speaks English very well, so to keep it fresh, she joined sites where she could play online strategy games with people from abroad. Her life has changed completely. She wakes up at 4 AM to play games with her Mongolian friend. Then she goes to the market, and in the afternoon, she plays with her friend from New York.”

Uncertain funding

The DJP want to create an office environment in some municipalities as part of the ongoing project of the DJP. “Many people are moving out of the cities into the countryside for peace and fresh air. There are more and more new faces, so there is an increased demand for different services, like faxing, scanning and photocopying,” says Attila.

Funding for the DJP is always unpredictable. This requires both flexibility and a lot of rescheduling on management. Attila Princz explains: “In 2019, we only had enough money until May. It wasn’t easy to prevent regional and area managers from looking for other jobs. In the end, we got funding at the last minute, but only for a year. At the moment, in 2022, we have money until June.”

Read also: Product school turns people without any technical knowledge into digital creators.

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