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LCQ5: Measures to help students from low-income families gain access to computers and the Internet

     Following is a written reply by the Secretary for Labour and Welfare, Mr Matthew Cheung Kin-chung, to a question by Dr Hon Margaret Ng in the Legislative Council today (July 8):


     Under the existing Comprehensive Social Security Assistance (CSSA) Scheme, child recipients are not provided with any allowance to pay for Internet access charges.  With the popularity of information technology education in secondary and primary schools, computers have become indispensable daily study tools for students, and amid the recent outbreak of human swine influenza, students who are affected by suspension of classes rely even more on computers to study.  In this connection, will the Government inform this Council:

(a) if it has assessed whether or not learning through the Internet is a basic need of school children; if such an assessment has been made and the outcome is in the negative, of the reasons for that;

(b) whether the authorities have assessed the effectiveness of the current work undertaken in respect of district cyber centres, partnerships in the community, computer recycling programme and Internet access in the community, etc. so as to ensure that such programmes meet the study needs of school children; if so, of the details; if not, the reasons for that; and  

(c) of the respective amounts of expenditure incurred on the work mentioned in (b) in each of the past five years, and the additional expenditure to be incurred annually on purchasing computers and providing Internet access for all child recipients of CSSA?



     Building an inclusive, knowledge-based society is one of the key action areas of the Government.  Our target is to enable citizens and businesses to harness the full potential of the information society to improve their quality of life, and develop Hong Kong into an inclusive, knowledge-based society through the use of information and communications technologies.  From the educational perspective, the use of information technology (including the use of computers and Internet connection) is conducive to students' learning.  The Government has therefore put in a large amount of resources to equip schools with adequate computer facilities.  We have also introduced various measures to facilitate the effective integration of information technology into learning and teaching to improve students' learning outcome.

     My reply to the various parts of the question is as follows:

(a) and (b) As explained above, the use of information technology (including the use of computers and Internet connection) is conducive to students' learning. The Government has introduced various measures to help students from low-income families gain access to computers and the Internet. These include:

     The Education Bureau (EDB) disburses recurrent subsidies to all primary and secondary schools annually to enable them to open their computer rooms and facilities for use by needy students after school.

*  Following the "Computer Recycling Scheme" which was launched in partnership with the Hong Kong Council of Social Service (HKCSS) from 2005 to 2007, EDB has collaborated with the Environmental Protection Department (EPD) to launch a "Computer Recycling Programme" in the 2008/09 and 2009/10 school years.  Families in receipt of Comprehensive Social Security Assistance (CSSA) or financial assistance under the School Textbook Assistance Scheme are eligible.  Students benefiting from the Programme will each be provided with a recycled computer and one-year free Internet access service.  They may also choose to join a favourable Internet access service plan for a further two years afterwards.  The Programme commenced operation at the beginning of this year.  EDB and EPD will closely monitor the situation and review the effectiveness of the Programme in due course.

*  Computer and Internet access facilities are available for use by students free of charge at various locations across the territory.   For example, altogether 136 Integrated Children and Youth Services Centres and 66 public libraries are providing more  than 1,700 computer  workstations  with Internet access.   Some of these facilities are open for use even in evenings and during weekends.  In the past three years, computer and Internet access facilities in public libraries had been used more than four million times each year.

*  Moreover, the Financial Secretary announced in the 2008-09 Budget that a pilot scheme would be launched to establish District Cyber Centres (DCCs) to provide computers and technical support at the district level so as to enable students from low-income families and other needy members of the community to access the vast information and knowledge in the digital world.  The pilot scheme provides computer hardware, software, Internet connection, training and application content to these persons.  A library of laptop computers for loan equipped with free wireless Internet access has also been set up.  As at end-June this year, 14 DCCs had participated in this pilot scheme.

*  To effectively monitor the progress and effectiveness of the pilot scheme, a steering committee comprising the DCC Alliance responsible for implementing the scheme and the Office of the Government Chief Information Officer (OGCIO) has been set up to give policy directive and supervise the work progress.  The DCC Alliance will submit regular progress reports to the Steering Committee for monitoring the performance of the Alliance.

*  OGCIO will also continue to promote partnership programmes at the district level organised by non-governmental organisations with a view to bringing the benefit to more children from low-income families and other needy members of the community.  For instance, under the coordination of OGCIO, HKCSS has earlier partnered with an Internet service provider to provide two-year free broadband Internet access service to 1 000 students from low-income families (especially students in receipt of CSSA).

(c) The total expenditure for the "Computer Recycling Scheme" implemented in 2005-07 was $18 million.  As at end-June this year, the new "Computer Recycling Programme" had incurred an expenditure of $5.5 million.  EDB has reserved another $57 million for the Programme, which is expected to benefit some 20,000 families.  Depending on the actual implementation, EDB may apply for additional funding.  As for the pilot scheme to establish DCCs, a total sponsorship of $14.4 million had been allocated in 2008/09.

     The Government has implemented the measures outlined above to facilitate the use of information technology in students' learning.  We have not made any assessment under the CSSA Scheme on the additional expenditure involved in purchasing computers and providing Internet access for all CSSA child recipients.  

Ends/Wednesday, July 8, 2009
Issued at HKT 14:51


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