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LCQ12: Support for Internet learning for students from grass-roots families
     Following is a question by Dr the Hon Lau Siu-lai and a written reply by the Secretary for Education, Mr Eddie Ng Hak-kim, in the Legislative Council today (November 9):


     As revealed by the findings of a survey conducted earlier on, the amount of subsidy provided under the Subsidy Scheme for Internet Access Charges (SIA) is insufficient to meet Internet access charges. As a result, the relevant grass-roots families have to pay almost $100 per month out of their own pockets to cover the shortfall. Moreover, quite a number of the families surveyed have indicated that they cannot afford the costs for repair or replacement of their computers, and 10 per cent of such families have not purchased any computer, resulting in the students of these families being unable to undertake Internet learning at home. There are comments that such a situation would result in a "digital divide", making the students of grass-roots families unable to enjoy equal learning opportunities when compared with other students.  Regarding the support for Internet learning for students of grass-root families, will the Government inform this Council:
(1) whether aided kindergartens and primary and secondary schools are required to install, for use by their students, computers of such a number which is no less than a particular percentage of the number of students; if so, of the details;
(2) whether it has compiled statistics on the respective average numbers of computers installed in each aided kindergarten, primary and secondary schools for use by their students, as well as the respective average daily usage rates; if it has; of the details;
(3) of the current number of computers installed in each public library for public use, and the average daily usage rate of such computers;
(4) of the respective current public expenditure and manpower involved in the various Internet learning support programmes provided for students from grass-roots families (including SIA and the "i Learn at Home" programmes); whether the authorities will take measures to further encourage schools to allow needy students to use the school computers to finish their homework relating to Internet learning;
(5) given that the amount of subsidy for Internet access charges has been increased by $100 for the 2016-17 school year, but the adjusted amount, as revealed in the aforesaid survey, is still below the amount actually needed, of the mechanism for the adjustment of the subsidy and whether it will make improvements to the mechanism; whether it will adjust the amount of the subsidy upward to an amount actually needed so as to alleviate the financial burdens of grass-roots families and, at the same time, provide other subsidies for gross-roots families to meet expenses on repair and purchase of computers; if it will, of the implementation timetable; if not, the reasons for that; and
(6) given that when they launched the Internet Learning Support Programme (ILSP), the authorities estimated that 410 000 students from 300 000 eligible families would benefit from ILSP in the 2011/12 school year and an additional 112 000 students from 82 000 families would benefit from ILSP in the following four years, but some organizations have pointed out that for five years since ILSP’s implementation, only 10 899 computers were purchased and 13 427 cases of Internet connections were set up under ILSP, which accounted for only a very small proportion of some 340 000 students from grass-roots families, indicating that ILSP has a very low utilization rate and cannot meet the needs of grass-roots families, whether the authorities will comprehensively review ILSP to ensure that ILSP can meet the needs of grass-roots families?
(1) and (2) The Education Bureau (EDB) has been implementing various strategies on Information Technology (IT) in Education with the goal of unleashing the learning power of our students to learn to learn and to excel through realising the potential of IT in enhancing interactive learning and teaching experience. To enhance students' learning effectiveness, we have been encouraging teachers to use the right technology at the right time in adopting different pedagogies and learning activities flexibly in accordance with the different learning goals and contents of subjects. Therefore, we have not specified any number of computer facilities and computer to student ratio for schools. Schools should take into account their own school circumstances, such as curriculum planning and actual teaching arrangements, in determining the amount of computer facilities required. We provide a recurrent Composite Information Technology Grant (CITG) to all public sector schools every year to meet the diversified needs of schools on e-learning. Under the principle of school-based management, schools can flexibly deploy their CITG or other resources as appropriate to upgrade and replace their schools' computer facilities. We do not have any statistics on the number of computer facilities in schools.
(3) The Leisure and Cultural Services Department currently provides over 1 870 computer workstations with Internet connection at 69 static libraries for users to access the libraries' multimedia and digitised resources, e-books and online databases, as well as other online resources on the Internet, to facilitate their seeking of information, leisure reading and self-learning. Depending on the positioning, floor area and scope of services of different libraries, the number and function of the computer workstations provided in the libraries vary.  Around 5 349 000 user requests for the computer workstations were recorded in 2015, accounting for a total average usage rate of the concerned facility at about 70 per cent.
(4) and (6) The "Internet Learning Support Programme" (ILSP in short, also known as "i Learn at Home" programme) is implemented by the Office of the Government Chief Information Officer (OGCIO). It was launched in the 2011/12 school year with a funding of $220 million approved by the Finance Committee of the Legislative Council in 2010. ILSP aims to assist (i) families receiving the flat-rate grant for School-related Expenses under the Comprehensive Social Security Assistance scheme, or (ii) families passing the means test of the Student Finance Office, to acquire affordable internet access service and computer equipment, and to provide target families with training and technical support. 

     Regarding the acquisition of computer equipment, the non-profit-making social welfare organisations responsible for implementing ILSP provide affordable computer equipment, including desktop, notebook and tablet computers, monitors and printers, for purchase by eligible families.  These offers, which include maintenance service for a period ranging from one to three years, are generally more economical as compared to the market prices. The implementers also make available computer purchase through payment by instalment for families with financial difficulties. Usage and technical support services, including free technical advice and free checking of computer equipment are also provided under ILSP. All participating families, including those who have not acquired computer equipment through ILSP, can enjoy these free support services.

     OGCIO has commissioned non-profit-making social welfare organisations to implement ILSP. As at October 2016, the total expenditure was $133 million. OGCIO considers that the lower-than-expected take-up rate of ILSP was due to the changes of the social environment in recent years, including the increase in IT knowledge of students and their parents, and the continuous increase of internet penetration rate among low-income households. Some of the families have already acquired computer equipment and internet access and hence do not have the pressing need to use the services provided by ILSP.
     Following the mid-term review of ILSP in 2013, a number of refined arrangements have been launched. These include bringing in more diversified and economical internet access services and computer equipment, and strengthened technical support services. As a result, the service take-up of ILSP has continued to improve. As at August 31, 2016, a total of 306 000 services had been delivered since its launch in July 2011.  In the 2015/16 school year, 86 400 services were provided to eligible families, representing an increase of more than one fold in comparison with the 39 300 services in the 2012/13 school year, i.e. the school year prior to the mid-term review. Among the refined services, there was a strong demand for technical support services and internet access services by service recipients. The utilisation of these two services in the 2015/16 school year were 34 500 and 4 700 times respectively, representing a substantial increase in comparison with the 5 800 and 1 600 times in the 2012/13 school year.
     Based on the survey conducted by the Census and Statistics Department in 2015, the internet adoption rate for students from low-income families reached 95.2 per cent, which was roughly on par with that of the mainstream students at 96.7 per cent. OGCIO believes the findings reflect that ILSP has helped narrowing the gap in respect of usage of information and communications technology between students from low-income families and their mainstream counterparts. Eligible families who had used the services were very satisfied and considered ILSP useful in helping students undertaking web-based learning. According to the user satisfaction survey conducted in early 2016, over 90 per cent of the respondents were satisfied with the overall service performance of the implementers.
     With endorsement from the Panel on Information Technology and Broadcasting of the Legislative Council, OGCIO has extended ILSP for two years until the 2017/18 school year. OGCIO has also stepped up the promotion of ILSP and actively promoting it to teachers and social workers so that eligible families can learn about it via different channels. The monthly fees of the broadband services offered for the 2016/17 school year are more economical as compared with those of the 2015/16 school year. For example, the monthly fee for household broadband service of 100Mbps has been adjusted to $98 per month ($129 for the same service in the 2015/16 school year). OGCIO will continue to refine the programme services where appropriate in light of service demand and the latest development of IT in Education.

     Besides, the EDB all along encourages schools to make good use of their computer facilities to address the after-school learning needs of students, such as extension of opening hours of schools’ computer facilities.
(5) To assist students from low-income families to access the Internet for learning, the Social Welfare Department and the Student Finance Office have implemented the "Subsidy Scheme for Internet Access Charges" (SIA) to provide cash subsidy on a household basis to eligible families to relieve their financial burden of providing internet access for their children to undertake web-based learning at home. In the 2015/16 school year, the expenditure of SIA was about $214 million, with subsidies disbursed to over 190 000 families.
     According to the mechanism approved by the Legislative Council Finance Committee, the rate of SIA is reviewed annually with reference to the prevailing market prices of Internet access services, including those offered by the two non-profit-making organisations under ILSP, so as to reflect the latest market situation and to allow the families to flexibly use the subsidies to acquire Internet access services that can best meet their needs. In the 2016/17 school year, the full subsidy rate for each eligible family has increased from $1,300 to $1,400 while the half subsidy rate has increased from $650 to $700, which can well cover the Internet access services (ranging from $900 to $1,176 annually) under ILSP.
Ends/Wednesday, November 9, 2016
Issued at HKT 15:20
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