Get more with myNEWS
A personalised news feed of stories that matter to you
Learn more
Children do their homework in a subdivided flat in Tsuen Wan. Many children in Hong Kong lack access to a digital device for online learning, which has been the norm for most of 2020. Photo: K.Y. Cheng

Letters | Covid-19 warning for Hong Kong schools on digital divide

  • The pandemic has highlighted troubling issues with resource access among students
  • Hong Kong cannot ignore the learning differences brought about by economic disparity, and must find ways to deepen and improve digital learning
Amid the third wave of the Covid-19 outbreak in Hong Kong, the government had initially announced that schools could start the new academic year with online learning only, with face-to-face classes and physical interactions suspended. Earlier this week, it allowed a return to on-site classes in two phases from September 23. However, given that the pandemic may take months or even years to be fully contained, schools must remain prepared for any future class suspensions.
While e-learning has become mandatory practice for schools, there remains a yawning gap between the haves and have-nots. A study found that one in 10 pupils encountered difficulties in e-learning during school suspensions because they did not own an electronic device.
At the Youth I.D.E.A.S. think tank, my fellow members and I conducted a study on enhancing support for e-learning in schools. Our survey showed that nearly 60 per cent of students found the online learning experience difficult, given the lack of a learning atmosphere and difficulties concentrating at home. Also, over 80 per cent of schools and over 50 per cent of students agreed that traditional learning could not be replaced by e-learning completely at the current stage.

Despite the fact that e-learning has been promoted for nearly 20 years by the government, it is seen as playing a secondary role in the education system. In bringing an unprecedented time of challenge, the pandemic has unearthed troubling issues which our society cannot ignore.


Low-income Hong Kong students struggle as coronavirus forces classes online

Low-income Hong Kong students struggle as coronavirus forces classes online

Firstly, the learning differences brought about by economic disparity should not be ignored. In spite of the fact that the Community Care Fund has implemented an assistance programme to subsidise mobile computer devices for needy primary and secondary students in public schools, there is a considerable number of reported cases of underprivileged students still lacking suitable learning devices. As e-learning has been a must for most of the past year, and may well become the only mode of education again in the future, the situation should be a wake-up call for the government, companies and NGOs on the necessity of allocating more resources to those in need and ensuring no one is left behind.

Poor Hong Kong pupils struggling with online classes ‘need government help’

Secondly, the Fourth Strategy on IT in Education (ITE4) should be reviewed and a comprehensive learning package developed. E-learning is not only about offering live streams of traditional classes, but also curating a learning environment and adaptive system for our students. In view of the accelerated development of e-learning, it is advisable to call for an ITE5, and further consider how to deepen digital learning, and promote cyber wellness and media literacy.

Lastly, the appropriate allocation of class time and teacher training is also key to enhancing the e-learning experience. Given that teachers already have heavy workloads, the Education Bureau could consider creating the post of “IT coordinator” as an addition to the current school establishment, to help design new learning and teaching strategies as well as provide relevant training to teachers to support more innovative learning.

While the pandemic will continue to transform the way we study, work and live, the need to bridge the digital divide will be ever greater in our community on the road to building a more resilient and sustainable education system for all.

Daneil Cheung, convenor, HKFYG Youth I.D.E.A.S (Education Group)