Growing up without a computer

The Welfords – (clockwise from right above) Alexandria, dad John, Ashley, mum Elisa, Victoria and Nicole are among families here who cannot afford to buy a computer with Internet access.

SINGAPORE - In retiree John Welford's household, the six children do not suffer from a problem that afflicts many other families - addiction to the use of the computer for games or social media.

They strictly take turns to use the computer only on weekends or on weekdays between 8 and 10pm. Those are the only times they have a computer to use, when one of the Welford children, advertising manager Vargilia, 27, brings home her company- issued laptop.

Apart from that, they have no other computers at home. They are among Singaporean families who could be lagging behind in information technology developments because they have less financial resources.

Their children conduct research or send e-mail in school or public libraries. Some borrow their siblings' work computers or go to their neighbour's house. Inconvenient? Yes. Frustrating? Sometimes. But these families make do.

In the Welford family, eight of them - two parents and six children aged 11 to 29 - live in a five-room HDB flat in Bishan. Only two are working. Apart from Vargilia, the eldest child Nicole, 29, works as a healthcare worker. The family has not owned a computer since last year.

Says father, Mr Welford, 57, a former administrator in an oil and gas company: "I sometimes feel bad that we cannot afford a computer in this day and age when everybody seems to be online. But our financial situation prevents us from owning one, and my children understand this. As a family, we try to overcome the inconveniences together."

Six years ago, the family owned a desktop computer provided through a computer ownership scheme by the Infocomm Development Authority of Singapore (IDA).

Within three years, that computer stopped functioning. The family was then given a second-hand laptop by the Eurasian Association of Singapore, a self-help group which serves the interests of the Eurasian community here. Last year, that laptop also stopped working. Both ended up with the karang guni man, and the family has not owned a computer since.

The Welfords have applied again for the scheme this year and the application is being processed.

Thankfully, Vargilia has access to a laptop for work. So her two younger siblings - Victoria, 15, and Alexandria, 13 - use it for their schoolwork and personal communication such as Facebook and e-mail.

Alexandria, a Secondary 1 student at Paya Lebar Methodist Girls' School, uses the laptop to practise skills taught in her Computer Applications class, such as preparing a resume or spreadsheet.

Victoria, who is pursuing a certificate in retail services at Northlight School, uses it to research different companies and occupations which she might join in the future. Says Alexandria: "My sister and I sometimes have to decide between ourselves how long each can use the laptop for. Having limited time forces us to plan how we spend it online. Projects and schoolwork come first. Idle chatting on Facebook comes last."

Adds Victoria: "It's troublesome having to wait for your turn. But some access is better than no access. Having to share the computer also brings us closer as sisters. We learn to accommodate when one has to 'eat into' the other's time in order to complete a school project."

Their older brother, also named John, 17, lets his sisters use the laptop instead of asking for a go on it. The Institute of Technical Education culinary arts student would rather go to his campus library in Choa Chu Kang to prepare his menus and restaurant reports.

He says: "I try to reach my campus two hours earlier to use the library computer. It's troublesome but my sisters need the laptop at home more than I do."

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