[Insights] Covid-19 warning for Hong Kong schools on digital divide

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.

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.

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…

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