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Updates on Hong Kong Government’s support for online learning by students of low-income families

In the 2010-11 Hong Kong Government Budget, the Financial Secretary proposed to facilitate Internet learning by students of low-income families through a two-pronged strategy. It includes the granting of a cash subsidy on Internet access charges to these families, and offering economical Internet services and complementary support to the parents and students.

The Internet Access Subsidy has been disbursed annually to eligible families since 2010/11 school year. The Internet Learning Support Programme (ILSP), named "i Learn at home", was launched on 14 July 2011 to help the eligible families acquire affordable computer equipment and Internet access service through flexible payment arrangement, and to provide the students and their parents in these families with user and social support to enable their effective use of the subsidy and proper use of the associated educational opportunity. The OGCIO engaged two non-profit organisations, namely The Boy's and Girls' Clubs Association of Hong Kong (BGCA) and WebOrganic, to implement the programme in the Eastern and Western parts of Hong Kong respectively.

In February 2016, the ILSP was extended till August 2018. A question was posed in the Legislative Council regarding the Government’s plans for continued support for children from grass-roots families upon the cessation of ILSP. Two specific potential problems were pointed out: 1) Internet service fees will be twice of those for the Internet access services subscribed through the Support Programme because such service is available from only one Internet service provider for most of the inadequate housing in which those children commonly reside; and (2) parents of grass-roots families in general lack knowledge of computer technology and hence are unable to help their children tackle difficulties in online learning.

Secretary for Innovation and Technology, Mr Nicholas W Yang, responded that having accumulated experience over the years and established good relationships with the beneficiary families and students, the two NGOs implementing the ILSP intend to continue to provide Internet learning support services to students from low-income families after the ILSP ends, and are currently looking into the scope of services and related details.

To support needy students in respect of Internet learning at home, the Student Finance Office and the Social Welfare Department will continue to provide Subsidy for Internet Access Charges for eligible families.

In addition, to facilitate Internet learning by students outside schools, the Government has been providing free Wi-Fi services at all 69 public libraries in Hong Kong. The Office of the Government Chief Information Officer (OGCIO) also subsidises around 170 study rooms and youth service centres operated by NGOs to offer free Wi-Fi services, which are expected to be fully operational by early 2018.

The Education Bureau is equipping all public sector schools with Wi-Fi coverage in all classrooms to facilitate the use of mobile computing devices for e-learning. Relevant construction work is expected to be completed during the 2017/18 school year. This is part of the implementation of the Fourth Strategy on Information Technology in Education to enhance interactive learning and teaching experience.

At present, quite a number of schools have implemented Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) and are using e-learning resources, e-textbooks and learning management systems to personalise student learning.

The written reply from Mr Yang noted, “The Government understands that the development of BYOD will increase the financial burden on students from low-income families. Thus, the Chief Executive's 2017 Policy Agenda announced that the EDB would invite the Community Care Fund (CCF) to consider providing subsidy to needy secondary and primary students for purchasing tablet computers to conduct e-learning.”

The EDB is currently working on the details and will submit the programme proposal to the CCF for consideration.

In order to nurture talent in STEM-related areas to facilitate the economic development of Hong Kong, the EDB released the Computational Thinking – Coding Education: Supplement to the Primary Curriculum in 2017 and encouraged schools to incorporate elements of coding education into the relevant curricula to enhance students' computational thinking skills. Professional development programmes are being organised for teachers to enhance their ability to implement coding education in schools, and learning and teaching resources for teachers' reference are being developed.

Mr Yang said that there is no need for parents to arrange primary students to attend fee-charging courses on coding during off-school hours, since the coding education provided by schools is considered to be sufficient.

Featured image: Sasa 38300/ CC BY-SA 3.0

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