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LCQ19: Assisting children from grass-roots families in tackling difficulties encountered in online learning

Following is a question by the Dr Hon Fernando Cheung and a written reply by the Secretary for Innovation and Technology, Mr Nicholas W Yang, in the Legislative Council today (January 17):


Some parents of students have pointed out that upon cessation of operation of the Internet Learning Support Programme (the Support Programme) in August this year, children from grass-roots families will face a number of problems in online learning, including (i) the Internet service fees (about $200 to $300 per month) 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 (e.g. sub-divisions of flat units/cubicle apartments in old tenement buildings and remote areas) in which those children commonly reside, and (ii) 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.  Those parents are of the view that as the Government is actively implementing science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) education, it should provide more support for children from grass-roots families to help them learn information technology. In this connection, will the Government inform this Council:

(1) how the Government will help children from grass-roots families tackle the two aforesaid problems;

(2) as the Government indicated in the 2017 Policy Agenda that it would invite the Community Care Fund to consider providing subsidy to needy primary and secondary students for purchasing tablet computers, of the progress of such work; the details of the proposed subsidy scheme (e.g. the implementation date, as well as the specifications of the tablet computers to be purchased with the subsidy and the software to be installed in them);

(3) apart from providing subsidy to children from grass-roots families for purchasing tablet computers, how the Government will help them tackle the various problems encountered in online learning, including the lack of financial means to purchase learning software, antivirus software and computer maintenance service; and

(4) given that the Government recommends that in implementing STEM education, schools should arrange their students to take computer programming and coding courses, but those courses are often conducted after school and for a fee, and some parents of students therefore anticipate that such situation will widen the gap in learning between children from rich and poor families, of the support to be provided by the Government for children from grass-roots families to help them take such courses?



Having consulted the Education Bureau (EDB), our reply to the four parts of the question is as follows:

(1) and (3) The Internet Learning Support Programme (ILSP) has been implemented since 2011.Its objective is to facilitate non-profit-making organisations (NGOs) in progressively developing a long-term operating model within the five-year funding period to provide continuous support on Internet learning to needy students. Having regard to the financial position of the ILSP, we extended it for two years up to August 2018 after consulting the Panel on Information Technology and Broadcasting of the Legislative Council in February 2016. We understand 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. Moreover, 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 also subsidises around 170 study rooms and youth service centres operated by NGOs to offer free Wi-Fi services, which are expected to be in full operation in early 2018.

(2) The EDB has been implementing the Fourth Strategy on Information Technology in Education to enhance interactive learning and teaching experience. One of the key measures is to equip all public sector schools with Wi-Fi coverage in all classrooms to facilitate the use of mobile computing devices for e-learning. Relevant construction works will generally be completed in the 2017/18 school year. 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 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 working on the details and will submit the programme proposal to the CCF for consideration.

(4) The aim of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) education is to enhance students' interests in science, technology and mathematics, strengthen their ability to integrate and apply knowledge and skills, foster their creativity, collaboration and problem solving skills, so as to nurture talents/ experts in STEM-related areas to facilitate the economic development of Hong Kong.

In the school curriculum, STEM education is not limited to information technology in education/coding education, but is implemented through the curricula of the science, technology and mathematics Key Learning Areas, as well as STEM-related learning activities conducted outside the classroom, including project learning and various competitions. 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. We have started organising professional development programmes for teachers to enhance their ability to implement coding education in schools, and are developing learning and teaching resources for teachers' reference. Similar to that for other subjects, 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 are already sufficient.

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