The popularization of information technology and the high internet penetration rate in Hong Kong have given many of us the impression that educational equality has already been achieved in this city, when in fact it is not the case.
Even though 96.2 percent of low-income families in Hong Kong have their own computers, and 95.2 percent of students from low-income families have access to the internet, these impressive numbers are unable to reflect the truth: a vast majority of these students are using obsolete computers and have to put up with low-speed internet connections when doing their homework.
The Internet Learning Support Program (ILSP) launched by the Education Bureau has been underway for several years, and so far it has spent HK$500 million (US$64.4 million) and helped 112,040 low-income families to buy their own computers.
The scheme might look pretty successful, but in fact it still has a lot of room for improvement, and the government could have done substantially more to help underprivileged students.
Recently, at a meeting between officials from the office of the government’s chief information officer and parent representatives from low-income families, many of the parents complained about the inadequacy of the existing program.
For example, the ILSP doesn’t apply to kindergarten students, and given its allowance of just HK$1,300 per year for each eligible family, its beneficiaries can only afford an 8 megabyte per second internet service plan, which is rather slow by today’s standards.
Moreover, many parents also said the subsidies they are given under the ILSP are just enough for them to buy second-hand or obsolete computers.
To make things worse, the ILSP doesn’t cover the cost of repairs of the computer systems.
As a result, many low-income families have no choice but to stick to their outdated or even malfunctioning computers because they just can’t afford to fix them or buy a new one.
One of the parents at the meeting said she has three school-age children at home but only one obsolete computer, and every day her kids have to take turns to do their homework.
The last in the queue often has to wait until late at night for his turn, and that often leads to quarrels among them.
Another said her daughter has to go to a stationery store in the neighborhood to print out her homework every day because the family’s printer has broken down and they just can’t afford to get a new one.
I sincerely hope that the administration can take their complaints and views seriously and act accordingly to improve the ILSP.
I believe every kid in Hong Kong deserves to have an equal opportunity for education regardless of his or her family background, and it is our government’s responsibility to make that happen.
This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on May 16.
Translation by Alan Lee