New life for old corporate computers so students can learn from home

 |   Rita Ngai

Crossroads Foundation

Hong Kong companies donate and refurbish PCs for school children in need 

The COVID-19 pandemic has forced many Hong Kong school students to embrace remote learning. But not all have access to computers at home.

Now Microsoft and its corporate partners are giving underserved students a better chance to learn by giving new life to old PCs.

“I live in a village in Sha Tin, and my family’s income is limited,” says Wu Jiahui, a Secondary 5 (Year 11) student at Toi Shan Association College. “We don’t have the ability to purchase computers.”

Instead, Jiahui relied on her smartphone to study. “But the speed is slower, and the software is not sufficient,” she says. “Because of the small screen, it’s hard to read, and the long-term use of my mobile phone caused shoulder pain and dry eye syndrome.”

“Without a proper device, students can’t learn efficiently. The quality of their work and their health can be seriously affected,” Albert Wong, chairman of the Association of IT Leaders in Education (AiTLE).

Prior to the COVID-19 lockdowns, Jiahui used to finish her homework in her school’s computer room at the end of each day’s lessons. “But I couldn’t make any revisions to my homework at home even when I found some mistakes.”

Barriers to learning

Albert Wong, chairman of the Association of IT Leaders in Education (AiTLE), says students without a computer at home usually end up using their mobile phones. “But mobile devices are made for communication, not for learning,” he says.

Additionally, some learning websites have layouts that are not optimal for mobile devices, making it difficult for students to watch video lessons or view slides. Formatting text and visuals for school projects on a smartphone can also be arduous.

“Not having their own computers hinders students’ creativity and makes learning time-consuming,” says Wong.

transporting computers

A recent survey of close to 600 students in the territory found that over 70% don’t have computers or have outdated machines, while 51% don’t have a desk for studying. Moreover, 83% of students said theses hurdles made them worry about falling behind their peers.

“Computers play an important role when it comes to education,” says Wong. “Before the outbreak of COVID-19, teachers occasionally posted e-learning materials or asked students to fill in an e-form for test questions. But with school suspensions lasting for months due to the pandemic, online learning activities such as webinars and virtual projects are necessary. Without a proper device, students can’t learn efficiently. The quality of their work and their health can be seriously affected.”

Empowering students in need

Microsoft has partnered with corporate groups, computer refurbishers, and education associations to provide more than 1,000 computers – once used in offices – to students in need.

“Not every family is in a financial position to provide their children with a computer. Remote learning makes this situation especially hard. Donating our refurbished hardware is a great way to make a positive impact on a student’s day-to-day life,” says Ada Ng, Director, Corporate Affairs, and Philanthropies at Microsoft.

Partnering with Microsoft, a range of like-minded organizations have donated used desktops and laptops. These computers were brought to Crossroads Foundation and Caritas Computer Workshop — organizations registered with Microsoft’s Refurbisher Program — for an overhaul.

“Not every family is in a financial position to provide their children with a computer,” Ada Ng, Director, Corporate Affairs, and Philanthropies at Microsoft.

To decide how to allocate the computers, AiTLE created an application process wherein local schoolteachers apply on behalf of their students.

“The teachers would need to elaborate on how their students were in urgent need of computers not just for general learning but also for remote lessons, completing homework, and specific online practices under COVID-19,” says Wong.

Blended learning

As one of the recipients of a refurbished computer, Jiahui can now learn from home more effectively.

“The speed is faster. The screen is bigger. The software is better and more updated. I can now use a keyboard to type,” she says.

Having her own computer allows Jiahui to enjoy her favorite subjects even more.

student remote learning

“I can study at home, so the quality of my homework will hopefully improve,” Wu Jiahui, student. “I personally love math and liberal studies. Both subjects require us to watch video lessons and do homework using different e-learning platforms,” she says. “With the proper device, not only has my health condition improved, but it has also saved me time from staying in school to finish my homework. I can study at home, so the quality of my homework will hopefully improve.”

Beyond the COVID-19 lockdown, Wong aims to promote the concept of “blended learning,” an approach to education that combines online educational materials and opportunities for interacting remotely with traditional place-based ones.

Microsoft’s Ng supports this aim. “We hope that educators and students in Hong Kong will continue to explore other practices for students to achieve their maximum potential in school,” says Ng.

“Apart from encouraging more corporate groups to donate their used devices for students in need, we also hope to have more NGOs providing training on computer and technology adoption for underprivileged students, so no one is left behind.”

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