Lawmakers fear 'digital divide' in the home

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 17 November, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 17 November, 2007, 12:00am

Legislators have called on the government to act to stem a 'digital divide' between affluent students and those who could not afford a home computer and internet access.

'Can you give an undertaking that if there is one child in a family that does not have a computer, they will be able to claim a surplus one?' said Civic Part legislator Fernando Cheung Chiu-hung.

Education legislator Cheung Man-kwong also picked up on a statement in an Education Bureau paper that 'about 95 per cent of primary and secondary students have access to computers at home'.

'If you turn that around, it means 5 per cent of students do not have access to a computer at home,' he said. 'How are you going to help that 5 per cent of families ... if not, there will be a digital divide.'

They were speaking at a meeting of the Legislative Council education panel to discuss the launch of a public consultation.

Principal assistant secretary for education Eddie Cheung Kwok-choi said the bureau already had a scheme in place to provide free computers to needy families, but that around 600 remained unclaimed.

'We still have surplus computers,' he said. 'We want to let people know about them.'

However, the Civic Party's Dr Cheung said it was not enough just to give out free computers.

'If people cannot afford the internet fee, it is no use even if you give them a computer,' he said.

Eddie Cheung replied that this had also been taken care of.

'We have obtained an agreement with an internet service provider that they can have free internet access for the first year if they receive one of these computers, and subsequent years receive a very good offer.'

The public consultation on the bureau's 'third strategy on information technology in education' ends on November 26. It sets out plans to upgrade schools' IT facilities, improve teachers' skills in using IT as a teaching tool and to set up an online 'depository' of teaching modules and ways of using IT in class.