Following is a question by the Hon Charles Mok and a written reply by the Secretary for Innovation and Technology, Mr Nicholas W Yang, in the Legislative Council today (December 6):
To facilitate Internet learning at home by students from low-income families, the Government has, since the 2010-2011 school year, implemented (i) the Subsidy Scheme for Internet Access Charges (SSIAC) under which a non-accountable Subsidy for Internet Access Charges (SIA) is provided to eligible families; and (ii) the Internet Learning Support Programme (ILSP) which helps eligible families procure affordable computers and Internet access service, as well as provides them with free training (including computer training for parents to enable them to guide and support their children’s Internet learning) and technical support. It has been reported that only a few old models of computers, which operate at low speeds, are available for purchase under the ILSP, and the complementary hardware and software are also unsatisfactory. On the other hand, there are comments that the ILSP is ineffective due to a lack of co-ordination among government departments. For instance, the Office of the Government Chief Information Officer (OGCIO), which is responsible for co-ordinating the ILSP, has difficulty in acting in concert with the Strategy on Information Technology in Education implemented by the Education Bureau (EDB). Moreover, since SIA is disbursed to eligible families though the Working Family and Student Financial Assistance Agency or the Social Welfare Department, it is difficult for the OGCIO to grasp full information of such families and students in order to provide them support. It has been reported that the ILSP will be concluded at the end of August next year, but the two operators of the ILSP intend to continue, after the ILSP has ended, the support on Internet learning for students from low-income families. In this connection, will the Government inform this Council:
(1) of the following information in each year from the 2013-2014 school year to October this year:
(i) the respective numbers of families which were eligible for SIA and those which actually received SIA, and
(ii) (a) the respective numbers of families which enrolled for and those actually participated in the ILSP, (b) the number of occasions on which services were provided under the ILSP, and (c) the actual and target utilisation rates of such services (set out in a table);
(2) whether it assessed, in the past three years, the effectiveness of the ILSP; if so, of the criteria adopted for the assessment and its outcome;
(3) whether the Government, after gaining the experience from implementing the ILSP, has plans to introduce the following improvement measures in respect of the support on Internet learning for students from low-income families on: (i) providing a new subsidy on a reimbursement basis for procurement of computers to enable recipient families to acquire computers according to students’ learning needs, (ii) enhancing parts and software maintenance and replacement services on a free or cost-recovery basis, and (iii) providing parent computer training courses on a more flexible time schedule and at locations closer to their homes;
(4) upon the conclusion of the ILSP in August next year, how the Government will follow up on and provide support on the Internet learning for students from the recipient families under the ILSP (including the handling of outstanding contracts on the hire-purchase of computers for such families), and whether it will launch a new programme to continue providing assistance to those recipient families; if so, of the details; if not, the reasons for that;
(5) whether it will consider tasking the EDB to co-ordinate the relevant tasks such as implementing the SSIAC, assisting students with financial difficulties in procuring affordable computers and Internet access service, co-ordinating the technical support for students’ Internet learning, and providing counselling services for students with Internet addiction and cyber-bullying issues, and make such arrangements a standing practice; if so, of the details; if not, the reasons for that; and
(6) whether it has approached the two operators of the ILSP to gain an understanding about the details of their continued provision of support on Internet learning for students from low-income families after the conclusion of the ILSP, and whether it will allocate new resources to support the operators and other non-governmental organisations in providing low-income families with popular services such as support on choosing and procuring Internet access service, technical support and computer training for parents?
After consultation with the Education Bureau (EDB) and the Social Welfare Department (SWD), my reply to the six parts of the question is as follows:
(1) Statistics on the Subsidy for Internet Access Charges (SIA) and the Internet Learning Support Programme (ILSP) from the 2013/14 school year to October this year are at Annex.
(2) Under the Funding and Operation Agreements (FOA) between the ILSP implementers and the Office of the Government Chief Information Officer (OGCIO), key performance indicators have been set to evaluate annually whether the actual achievements have met the stipulated targets.
To ensure service quality, minimum service levels were stipulated in the relevant FOAs, such as the connection speed of residential broadband service, computer software and hardware specifications, warranty period of computers, delivery time schedule, operating hours of hotline and service centres, teacher-to-student ratio and content of the training courses provided, counselling service, referral arrangements, etc. According to the evaluation in the 2016/17 school year, the performance of both implementers have met the required standards.
In addition, we commissioned an independent organisation to conduct a questionnaire survey from June to July 2017. Findings show that among the eligible families which have used the services under the ILSP, more than 94 per cent were satisfied or considered the services acceptable. Moreover, the Internet adoption rate for students of eligible families reached 94.6 per cent, which is close to that of the mainstream families at 95.6 per cent.
The positive response notwithstanding, we observe that despite the strenuous efforts of the implementers to encourage eligible families to enrol, the growth in the take-up rate of the ILSP services is slower than expected. Reasons include: owing to personal data privacy concerns, the Working Family and Student Financial Assistance Agency, the SWD and the schools cannot provide information of the eligible students directly to the implementers (Note), hence making it difficult for the implementers to identify the eligible students; with the continuous development of e-learning, the knowledge of students and parents in information technology has increased and the demand for training has correspondingly declined; and some families can also purchase computers with attractive discounts directly from the market, etc.
(3) The ILSP does not provide direct financial support. As regards technical support, the implementers will provide eligible families with free technical advice and computer check-up services regardless of whether the computers are acquired through the ILSP. All desktop or notebook computers acquired through the ILSP by eligible families at their own expense can enjoy free maintenance services within the three-year warranty period. As regards the provision of computer training, the two implementers have set up a total of 35 service centres across the territory and arrange training classes at different timeslots having regard to the demand to facilitate participation by students and parents.
(4) and (6) The ILSP aims to facilitate non profit-making organisations to develop a long-term operation model to continue the support on Internet learning for needy students. We understand that the two implementers, with accumulated experiences and having established good relationships with the beneficiary families and students, intend to continue providing Internet learning support services to students from low-income families after the ILSP ends. They are currently mapping out the scope of services and the relevant details. For the current service users of the ILSP, the OGCIO will ensure that the implementers and their service providers offer services in accordance with the relevant contract provisions until contract expiry.
To support needy students in respect of Internet learning at home, the Student Finance Office and the SWD will continue to disburse SIA to eligible families. Moreover, the Government provides free Wi-Fi services at all 69 public libraries of Hong Kong to facilitate Internet learning by students outside schools. To enhance support for needy students, the OGCIO also subsidises around 170 study rooms and youth service centres operated by non profit-making organisations to offer free Wi-Fi services. It is expected that the services at all venues will commence in early 2018.
(5) The EDB has been implementing the Fourth Strategy on Information Technology in Education (ITE4) to enhance interactive learning and teaching experience through leveraging information technology. One of the key measures under the ITE4 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. Other measures under the ITE4, including enhancing the supply of quality e-learning resources, developing information literacy of students and building up professional leadership and capacity of education professionals, etc, will also facilitate the implementation of e-learning in schools. 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 burden on students from low-income families. Thus, the Chief Executive’s 2017 Policy Address announced that the EDB would invite the Community Care Fund to consider providing subsidy to needy primary and secondary students for purchasing tablet computers to conduct e-learning.
Meanwhile, the framework on “Information Literacy for Hong Kong Students”, updated in 2016, enables schools to incorporate information literacy into their curriculum so as to foster students’ ability and correct attitude to use information, including evaluating the reliability of information sources and guarding against dangers on the Internet. The EDB has provided an information kit on e-learning for reference by schools in undertaking relevant parent education, and has organised seminars and workshops for parents to help develop proper attitude of their children in using information technology in daily life and study, in order to avoid Internet addiction or access to undesirable information. Besides, a telephone hotline has been set up to provide individual support to parents, teachers and students in need. The EDB will continue to actively promote the above measures.
Note: Although the Student Finance Office under the Working Family and Student Financial Assistance Agency has been assisting the OGCIO to hand out leaflets and enrolment forms on the ILSP, it will only pass the personal data of the relevant applicants to the OGCIO with their consent and authorisation. The OGCIO could then pass to the relevant implementers.