Subject: education, information technology and broadcasting, digital inclusion

Digital divide among students in Hong Kong

Promoting digital participation for students in Singapore

Concluding remarks

  • The wider adoption of ICT by students from different social backgrounds helps ensure their equal access to education. Yet in Hong Kong, the recent COVID-19 outbreak has engendered concerns that the digital divide might hinder the adoption of e-learning by needy students. Compared with Hong Kong, Singapore has casted a wider safety net to ensure that needy students have adequate access to the Internet, computer, and other personal learning devices. In response to the COVID-19 outbreak, the Singapore government has further consolidated its digital access measures. Needy students may now opt for mobile instead of fixed broadband and/or a second computer if the family has more than two school-going children. Furthermore, MOE has announced that every secondary one student will be equipped with his or her own personal learning device for e-learning by 2021.

Prepared by Charlie LAM
Research Office
Information Services Division
Legislative Council Secretariat
20 October 2020


1.The Education Bureau has been providing an annual recurrent Composite Information Technology Grant since 2004-2005 to all public sector schools, which may deploy the fund to promote e-learning. Starting from 2017, an extra One-off Information Technology Grant of around HK$200,000 has been disbursed in phases to support eligible public sector schools to enhance their practice of e-learning. See Education Bureau (2020d).

2.The Hong Kong Education City ("HKEdCity"), a wholly owned company of the Government, was established in 2000 to serve and promote quality education and information technology for lifelong and life-wide learning. It provides information, resources, interactive communities, online tools and services to strive for innovative learning and enhance teaching effectiveness.

3.Under the school-based management principle, schools can determine the pace of e-learning adoption according to their own needs. In the 2016-2017 school year, only 65% of primary schools and 66% of secondary schools had utilized e-learning resources across class levels and subjects. Added to this, it is estimated that only 54% of primary schools and 31% of secondary schools had utilized e-textbooks in the 2018-2019 school year. See Audit Commission (2018a) and Education Bureau (2020d).

4.Although schools in Hong Kong have generally adopted HKEdCity's online assessment system, the use of its interactive e-learning platforms has been more limited. According to HKEdCity, only 14 schools have adopted the Virtual Learning Environment which enables schools to build a standardized e-learning platform for collaborative learning. See Hong Kong Education City Limited (2020).

5.For instance, there are currently only 59 sets of e-textbooks on the Recommended e-Textbook List for school's adoption. This compares with more than 530 conventional textbooks which are included in the Recommended Textbook List. See Education Bureau (2020d).

6.The HKEdCity administers the eResources Adoption Programme to source quality e-learning resources and tools for schools from education solutions suppliers locally and around the world. To date, only 12 e-learning resources in the areas of "language learning", "maths and science", "multiple subjects", and "learning tools" are available. According to some participating schools, they have encountered difficulties in procuring e-learning resources that are suitable for their priorities in learning and teaching. See Audit Commission (2018a) and Hong Kong Education City Limited (2020).

7.See Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (2006).

8.See Census and Statistics Department (2020).

9.See Ministry of Communications and Information (2020).

10.See Office of the Government Chief Information Officer (2008).

11.According to the University of Hong Kong (2020), the access to digital devices with a larger display (i.e. computer, laptop or tablet) are considered crucial for e-learning at home. Another survey conducted by the Society for Community Organisation in March 2020 unveiled that 28% of the 582 low-income students surveyed had no broadband access at home. See Siu & Chow (2020).

12.With the epidemic showing recent signs of subsiding, the Education Bureau resumed face-to-face classes in two phases in the second half of September. In order to reduce the risk of infection, face-to-face classes are conducted on a half-day basis with health precautionary measures put in place by schools. See Education Bureau (2020b).

13.See South China Morning Post (2020).

14.A survey conducted by the Education University of Hong Kong in February 2020 found that 33% of primary school parents have expressed concern over a lack of relevant knowledge to guide their children's e-learning activities. See Education University of Hong Kong (2020) and 電視廣播有限公司(2020).

15.Since 2018-2019, the "Community Care Fund Assistance Programme - Provision of Subsidy to Needy Primary and Secondary Students for Purchasing Mobile Computer Devices to Facilitate the Practice of e-Learning" has provided financial support to eligible primary and secondary students who are studying in schools which have implemented e-learning and adopted "Bring Your Own Device". Under the programme, a full grant of HK$4,610 is provided to students in receipt of the Comprehensive Social Security Assistance or full grant of the School Textbook Assistance Scheme ("STAS"), and a half grant of HK$2,305 is provided to students in receipt of the half grant of STAS. The grant is used to cover the purchase of mobile computer devices and the related software, accessories and warranty.

16.See GovHK (2020a).

17.According to Education Bureau (2020b), schools implementing BYOD should have (a) devised teaching strategies in using the device; (b) formulated an "Acceptable Use Policy" to govern students in using the mobile computer devices in school; and (c) advised parents to acquire mobile computer device for students to conduct e-learning through formal channels.

18.With many schools seeking to continue teaching via electronic platforms amid the COVID-19 outbreak, the Government has accepted applications by all schools implementing e-learning for their needy students before full resumption of class. See Education Bureau (2020b).

19.The Subsidy Scheme for Internet Access Charges is administered by the Working Family and Student Financial Assistance Agency. Eligible families are those who pass the existing means test of the Student Financial Assistance Agency and whose children are full-time students receiving education at primary or secondary level, or full-time students pursuing Project Yi Jin Programmes or equivalent courses of the Vocational Training Council. The granting of the full rate or half rate depends on the result of the means test.

20.According to the International Telecommunication Union, the average monthly fixed broadband Internet access tariff in Hong Kong amounted to US$21.4 (HK$168) in 2019. See International Telecommunication Union (2019).

21.ILSP was delivered across 35 service centres, featuring the provision of computer equipment at affordable prices, Internet packages at concessionary subscription fees, and free technical and social support on using computer equipment and the Internet.

22.The figures refer to the period between 2011-2012 and 2016-2017. See Audit Commission (2018b).

23.The non-profit making organizations - namely the Boy's and Girl's Clubs Association of Hong Kong and WebOrganic - have continued to provide similar services albeit at a reduced scale.

24.The Smart Nation comprises three key pillars, namely Digital Economy, Digital Government and Digital Society. The government has taken forward various initiatives in the areas of urban living, transport, health, digital government services, startups and businesses, and strategic national projects. See Smart Nation and Digital Government Office (2018).

25.The National Digital Literacy Programme is part of Singapore's effort to refresh its education curriculum so that primary, secondary and tertiary students will be able to acquire the requisite digital skills. It was launched in March 2020 and has been updated since the COVID-19 outbreak. See Ministry of Education (2020c).

26.For instance, computational thinking skills are incorporated into the Mathematics curriculum at the secondary level.

27.See Ministry of Education (2020d).

28.See Gov.SG (2020) and Ministry of Education (2020a).

29.The NEU PC Plus Programme was first launched in 2006 to subsidize all full-time students aged 25 or below living in a family with a gross monthly household income at or below S$3,400 (HK$18,979), or per capita income at or below S$900 (HK$5,024). Students who receive the full subsidy are generally required to provide three to 12 hours of community service. See Infocomm Media Development Authority (2020b).

30.In general, households with two or fewer school-going children are only eligible for one subsidized computer.

31.This marks an improvement over 2006 when some 14% of households with school-going children did not have access to an Internet-ready personal computing device. See World Bank (2008) and Infocomm Media Development Authority (2019).

32.The mobile broadband option provides unlimited data but is subject to throttle data speed after daily cap use of 1GB. See Infocomm Media Development Authority (2020b).

33.The scheme will be implemented in phases with the ultimate goal of equipping all secondary students with their own personal learning devices. Device management software will be installed so that students could only access content that is conducive to learning.

34.See Ministry of Education (2020e).

35.See Ministry of Education (2020b).

36.The Media Literacy Council was founded in 2012 to promote responsible digital citizenship. It comprises 21 members appointed by the Singapore government from across different industries and sectors.


Hong Kong

1.Audit Commission. (2018a) Education Bureau's efforts in harnessing information technology to facilitate learning and teaching.

2.Audit Commission. (2018b) OGCIO's programmes and projects in promoting the wider use of IT in the community.

3.Census and Statistics Department. (2020) Personal Computer and Internet Penetration.

4.Education Bureau. (2020a) Arrangements of Resumption of Face-to-Face Classes in Phases for All Schools.

5.Education Bureau. (2020b) Education Bureau Circular Memorandum No. 55/2020.

6.Education Bureau. (2020c) Figures and Statistics.

7.Education Bureau. (2020d) Replies to initial written questions raised by Finance Committee Members in examining the Estimates of Expenditure 2020-21.

8.Education University of Hong Kong. (2020) Survey: Nearly 70% of Parents Find Their Children Have Difficulty Learning at Home.

9.GovHK. (2020a) LCQ18: Assisting children from grass-root families in undertaking e-learning.

10.GovHK. (2020b) SED's opening remarks at media session.

11.Hong Kong Education City Limited. (2020) HKEdCity Service Highlights 2020/21.

12.International Telecommunication Union. (2019) ICT Price Trends 2019.

13.Innovation and Technology Bureau. (2016) Promotion of Digital Inclusion. LC Paper No. CB(4)581/15-16(03).

14.Innovation and Technology Bureau. (2018) Progress Report on Innovation and Technology Fund for Better Living and Digital Inclusion.

15.Innovation and Technology Bureau. (2020) Progress Report on Innovation and Technology Fund for Better Living and Digital Inclusion.

16.Office of the Government Chief Information Officer. (2007) 2008 Digital 21 Strategy.

17.Siu, T. & Chow, Y. (2020) Hong Kong to suspend all schools due to spike in coronavirus cases. Reuters, 10 July.

18.South China Morning Post. (2020) Hong Kong students without electronic devices could be left on the wrong side of 'tsunami-scale' digital learning divide.

19.University of Hong Kong. (2020) Hong Kong Students' Digital Citizenship Development: Initial Findings.



21.Chan, S. M. A. et al. (2019) Student Learning Space: The Integration of Curriculum and Technology in Singapore.

22.Gov.SG. (2020) Moving into Phase 2: What activities can resume.

23.Infocomm Media Development Authority. (2019) Annual Survey on Infocomm Usage in Households and by Individuals for 2019.

24.Infocomm Media Development Authority. (2020b) NEU PC Plus.

25.Ministry of Communications and Information. (2020) Transcript of Minister for Communications and Information S Iswaran's Response to Adjournment Motion on "Closing the Digital Divide for SGUnited: Learnings from COVID-19" by Nominated Member of Parliament Ms Anthea Ong.

26.Ministry of Education. (2020a) FAQs for COVID-19 Infection in Singapore.

27.Ministry of Education. (2020b) Infosheet on Strengthening Digital Literacy.

28.Ministry of Education. (2020c) MOE FY2020 Committee of Supply Debate Response by Ministry of Education Ong Ye Kung.

29.Ministry of Education. (2020d) Schools and Institutes of Higher Learning to Shift to Full Home-based Learning.

30.Ministry of Education. (2020e) Strengthening Digital Literacy.

31.Smart Nation and Digital Government Office. (2018) Smart Nation: The Way Forward.

32.World Bank. (2008) Toward a better future: education and training for economic development in Singapore since 1965.


33.Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development. (2006) Digital Divide.

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