Coronavirus: Pandemic may worsen gap in students' ability to learn using technology

  • Researchers warn of huge digital learning divide among students after class suspension
  • 40 per cent of students have to share devices at home and 10 per cent have no home access at all
Wong Tsui-kai |

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Nancy Law Luk Wai-ying, a professor at HKU’s Faculty of Education(right) led the survey on how students used technology.

The inequality of educational resources, exacerbated by the pandemic, will lead to a worsening gap in the ability of students to learn using technology, a new study says.

In a time when classes are now online, a survey by the University of Hong Kong has found huge differences in students’ ability to learn this way.

The study collected data from 2,000 students on how they used technology.

“There are huge differences between schools at all three grade levels in the study,” the researchers said.

“From the findings, we can see that before the pandemic, nearly all students had access to some form of digital technology and had the competence to handle basic tasks on it,” said Professor Nancy Law Luk Wai-ying, from HKU’s Faculty of Education, who led the study.

However, she cautioned, at that time e-Learning had only played a minor role in schoolwork. But, the study had showed huge divides in how much students could accomplish digitally, and how much support their families could give them.

Law expects that this pre-existing digital divides will be wider after the pandemic if not properly handled. The research team recommended improvements in the online learning support system and updating the IT curriculum.

“During the pandemic, online learning has become the only channel to conduct teaching and learning,” Law said. She also pointed out that up to 10 per cent of Hong Kong’s students could be facing this difficult time with no access to electronic devices.

Elizabeth Loh Ka-yee, assistant professor at HKU’s Faculty of Education, said many teachers had found it challenging to help children lacking online infrastructure such as electronic devices or Wi-fi.

“There is not much teachers can do,” she said.

Further, the study showed that about 40 per cent of students had to share their digital devices with family members. While the devices were just being used for pleasure that would not be a problem, Law said. But now students have to spend a significant amount of time online, it will likely be difficult for them.