Thursday, December 14, 2017

[EJinsight] Give grassroots students an equal learning opportunity

The government is set to pull the plug on the Internet Learning Support Program in August next year, according to media reports.

The program, run by the Office of the Government Chief Information Officer (OGCIO) since 2011, is aimed at enhancing computer literacy and facilitate internet learning among students from low-income families by providing cash subsidies for them to buy computers and install internet connection.

I have always been concerned about students from low-income families who are struggling to have access to the internet for learning purposes.

I find it absolutely mind-boggling that our government, which has a trillion dollars in reserves and doesn't seem to be bothered by billion-dollar cost overruns in its extravagant infrastructure projects, would be pinching pennies when it comes to helping disadvantaged children to have internet access, something which has already become a daily essential in this digital age.

I have personally met with parents from grassroots families, and noticed that it is fairly common for students from low-income families to either have no computers at home or have to stick with their obsolete models because they just cannot afford to buy new ones.

As a result, many of them have to do their schoolwork using free computers in public libraries or even MTR stations.

Even for families who are lucky enough to have their own computers at home, their children often have to take turns to use them for their homework, and because of that, many of them have to stay up late at night to finish their homework.

That these children don’t have equal access to the internet as their classmates from middle-class families do is putting them at a huge disadvantage and exacerbating the educational inequality in our city.

The Internet Learning Support Program is a good policy initiative. Yet in my opinion, it shouldn’t be run solely by the OGCIO. Instead, the Education Bureau and the Social Welfare Department should participate in the implementation of the program.

Even though at present students from poor families can apply for subsidies from the Community Care Fund to buy tablets, the fund is unable to provide any technical support for students like the Internet Support Learning Program can, which makes the program even more irreplaceable.

As such, I believe the Education Bureau should step up its efforts at coordinating different government departments in providing full-scale support for students from low-income families so as to enable them to have daily access to the internet and guarantee equal learning opportunities.

This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on Dec 5 2017

Translation by Alan Lee