About four in five low-income families in Hong Kong cannot afford computers for their children to take e-learning classes at home while schools are closed because of the coronavirus and one-fifth do not have Wi-fi either, a study has found.
The survey, by the pressure group Alliance for Children Development Rights, also found cases in which students had to share their parents’ mobile phones with their siblings to take the classes.
The alliance urged the government to cut red tape and offer direct subsidies for needy students to buy computers or tablets, rather than having to apply through their schools. The government should also give data SIM cards to needy families without Wi-fi at home, it said.
The study, conducted between August 29 and September 4, covered 900 parents from families living on social security or receiving government textbook grants to see how well their children managed e-learning under the special arrangements sparked by the Covid-10 epidemic.
Findings showed some 80.2 per cent of the parents said their children did not have a computer or tablet for e-learning. And about 18.6 per cent said they did not have Wi-fi at home.
Close to 60 per cent of the parents said schools offered no help. Only 22.3 per cent said schools would lend devices to students while 25.1 per cent said they would also distribute mobile data cards to needy students.
There is a programme under the government’s Community Care Fund which offers a one-off subsidy to needy students in public primary and secondary schools to buy mobile devices deemed by schools as suitable for e-learning.
Those receiving comprehensive social security assistance or a full textbook grant will get the maximum subsidy of HK$4,740 each. For students getting a half grant, the subsidy is up to HK$2,370.
But the scheme only applies to those studying in schools implementing e-learning and adopting a bring-your-own-device policy. Students also have to apply through their schools.
Alliance community organiser Catlyn Ho Yu-ying: “Some schools just don’t bother to apply for their students. Maybe there are too few needy students in their schools. Maybe the schools do not heavily rely on e-teaching.
“The easiest way is for the government to relax the application criteria to allow needy schoolchildren to apply directly to the Education Bureau.”
Wong Kam-leung, chairman of the Federation of Education Workers and also a primary school principal, argued: “There is no question of schools being unwilling to help needy students. But there are procedures to go through. Schools have to collect the forms from parents first to determine how many devices are needed, then, we have to invite tender.
“Suppliers often deliver the computers in batches. So, very often, the whole thing could take several weeks before a student can get his or her device.”
Wong said schools appreciated the difficulties needy children faced and hoped welfare groups could run more programmes to donate second-hand devices to low-income families.
Meanwhile, under a $10,000 Reasons charity campaign launched by a group of local Christian volunteers, 1,717 new and used laptops and tablets, as well as 634 50GB or 70GB data SIM cards had so far been procured. The devices and SIM cards would be donated to needy students via welfare groups.
A coordinator of the campaign, Ken Lung Ken-fung, who works at Octopus Cards, said the campaign only started three weeks ago and he was pleased with the response.
The group had earlier advocated donating to low-income families the HK$10,000 cash payout offered to permanent residents under the government’s coronavirus relief effort.
Schools are set to resume face-to-face classes in two phases on a half-day basis from September 23 following a recent drop in the number of new Covid-19 cases.
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