High school students will teach older Australians how to use smartphones and browse the internet under a new federal government initiative.

The Young Mentors program was developed by the eSafety Commissioner.

The free mentoring scheme will see secondary school-aged young Australians teaching those aged over 50 years old about digital skills in one-on-one sessions.

Minister for Communications Michelle Rowland said that for older Australians, the mentoring program will help to build confidence in using technology, deliver a greater sense of independence, provide more access to services and reduce feelings of loneliness.

For the young mentors, Rowland said it will give them an opportunity to develop valuable teaching, communication and leadership skills while also making a positive social contribution.

“The Young Mentors program helps bridge the digital divide by connecting two groups that were particularly impacted through the COVID-19 pandemic - older Australians and young people,” Rowland said.

“By pairing older Australians with teenagers to build their digital skills and confidence, the program encourages genuine connection between generations while making the online world a safer place we can all enjoy.”

Community organisations or groups will partner with secondary schools to coordinate the one-hour mentoring sessions, to be delivered weekly over six weeks. These sessions will be individually tailored to the needs of the older learner.

The federal government has invited schools, libraries, councils, aged residential care facilities and other community groups to get involved with the intergenerational program.

The Young Mentors scheme is part of the Be Connected program, which empowers older Australians to access digital technology and online services, and is run in partnership between the Department of Social Services, eSafety Commissioner and Good Things Foundation Australia.

The new scheme will help to keep older Australians safe online, Minister for Social Services Amanda Rishworth said.

“We know older Australians can be vulnerable online and the Be Connected program is one way that seeks to improve the digital literacy of older Australians and protect them in the digital space,” Rishworth said.

The Be Connected initiative was launched in 2017 and includes a dedicated website with information and interactive tools and resources, and free access to personalised support and mentoring.

It aims to teach older Australians the basics of technology, such as using a digital device, being safe online, sending emails, using social media, shopping online, using myGov and sharing photos with friends and families.

It replaced the previous Broadband for Seniors government program.

An analysis of the program in early 2021 found that it is having a “significant impact” on building the skills, confidence and safety skills of older Australians, and that it “represents an appropriate, effective and efficient investment in the digital inclusion of older Australians”.

The program now has a network of more than 3,000 partners and 9,800 digital mentors delivering training to more than 580,000 learners.