International schools in Hong Kong

Lack of computers at Hong Kong international school questioned

Advice to a parent who wonders why son uses computers so little in class and writes homework: a good education today doesn’t depend on technology, even if it is an excellent tool for research and enriching learning

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 24 October, 2017, 12:46pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 24 October, 2017, 12:46pm

My Year 5 son attends an international primary school where there are no separate lessons for computer skills. Sometimes he only uses a computer once or twice a week, as there are only enough for children to share one between two (and these are also shared with another class). Also, most of his homework is still written by hand. Surely nowadays schools should be providing more access to computers?

The lack of resources in schools can be frustrating. Computers are expensive to both buy and maintain. As a parent there are several things you could do to help: join the school’s parent-teacher association and encourage fundraising activities for technology; discuss your concerns with the school principal; introduce the subject of increasing technology resources at the next school annual general meeting. Another way to make your views known is through parent questionnaires many schools use as part of their self-evaluation.

Your son’s exposure to technology is likely to increase at secondary school. Most Hong Kong international schools require pupils to have their own laptops from Year 7 onwards, meaning schoolwork and homework are frequently done on the computer.

The teaching and practise of technology skills are often integrated into lessons at primary level, despite that, some parents – like yourself – would like to see it taught as a separate subject. Also, students should have opportunities to use computers during specified library times, often for research work.

Class action: learning typing is key, but there’s no need to rush your child

Teachers, who are now expected to be well trained in computer skills, are able to teach skills explicitly using interactive white boards. Not only does this make lessons lively and engaging, it also gives teachers the opportunity to be good role models, using technology to enhance their presentations and make lessons more interesting and visual.

This cross-curricular approach resonates with the move by many schools towards a more transdisciplinary teaching methodology, which encourages creative and critical thinking and makes learning relevant. With this approach, students have opportunities to work together and collaborate using computers or tablets. This demands that students apply cooperation skills and encourages them to learn from each other.

With ever greater access to information via the internet, technology is an excellent tool for research and enriching learning in a wide range of other subjects, such as data handling in mathematics or evidence evaluation in science. Drafting and editing factual and creative writing is also less onerous on a computer, especially for those who struggle with handwriting, grammar and spelling.

If your son is studying the International Baccalaureate curriculum he will no doubt use his technology skills for the Year 6 Exhibition next year, where he will be expected to present his findings and effectively communicate his thinking in different ways.

As you have pointed out, the technological age means that handwriting is less important than it used to be. However, do bear in mind that exams are currently still handwritten and likely to remain so for the foreseeable future, so there is certainly no harm in your son handwriting his homework at this stage.

Why digital natives must still learn handwriting: so they can pass Hong Kong exams (and write birthday cards)

Nevertheless, children will certainly need the skills of speed typing for note taking and essays at secondary school and in the future workplace. There are some free educational games on the internet to help your son to practise this skill. You can also encourage other meaningful writing activities such as sending messages to friends and family. Most children need little encouragement to use technology at home and with friends, and these fun activities naturally start building the skills they need.

Every school should strive to optimise the technology they have available. Resources are important, but there is no substitute for committed staff who motivate students and make learning fascinating and fun. There are some excellent schools around the world where resources are scarce. Remember that education is multifaceted and can be just as successful in an open field as in a state-of-the-art facility with computers galore.

Julie McGuire is a former Hong Kong primary-school teacher