Written by Fred Sheu, National Technology Officer, Microsoft Hong Kong
The beginning of a new school year in Hong Kong is always filled with a certain degree of excitement and anticipation, but this year’s was unlike anything students, parents, teachers, and schools, have ever experienced before. The education sector has been at the center of an extraordinary digital transformation journey which, with the start of this new term, signals a long-term shift towards a “new normal” of remote learning.
Integration of technology in the everyday teaching and learning cycle
The acceptance of technology within the education environment has increased exponentially since the outbreak of COVID-19 in January. With the start of this new term, schools have been advised by the Education Bureau to offer a blended learning program that includes face-to-face classes in phases from late September. For now, at least, this is the “new normal” that students and educators need to manage as they integrate technology into their everyday teaching and learning cycle.
The process is one that has allowed teachers the opportunity to review their approach and method like never before. With real-time data, teachers have developed tailormade classes to meet the specific needs of their students, adjusting their curricula along the way.
Bridging the digital divide to ensure equal chances of learning
As the education environment in Hong Kong rushed to welcome new technology into this cycle, COVID-19 revealed a digital divide in the classroom and the wider community. In a survey of nearly 600 Hong Kong students, we found that 70% have computers that are out of date or none at all, and 10% have no home electronic devices whatsoever. This limit on digital access for students and their families in Hong Kong means they are being left behind.
For learning to be inclusive, digital tools must be made accessible to all. From devices to platforms, to software and modes of learning, every student should have access to the technology they need for an equal learning opportunity, as they would have in any classroom environment to help them achieve their potential. It is more important than ever that we ensure equal and inclusive access to learning for students, and Microsoft has partnered with corporate groups, computer refurbishers, and education associations to provide more than 1,000 computers to students in need.
Further steps are needed, however, to bridge this divide. With the offer of a discounted Windows licence installation we can ensure devices are accessible to students from all backgrounds. The Microsoft Registered Refurbisher program has been running in Hong Kong for more than five years. But due to COVID-19 we have decided to expand our efforts with the support of our partners and customers, and we have made significant progress to accelerate the positive impact we make in the day-to-day lives of all Hong Kong’s students.
Equip students and educators to be #futureready
Our education system is in many ways the launch pad for tomorrow’s workforce, yet today’s students require a whole new set of skills to be future ready for Hong Kong’s fourth industrial revolution. To nurture these skills, there is a need for a more holistic and visionary educational approach. This starts with inspiring students’ interests in STEM at an early age and is then cultivated by providing them with essential technology skills during secondary and tertiary education.
Educators are working hard to adapt and quickly offer stimulating and engaging virtual lessons, but as things stand this shift, on its own, will not be sufficient to address the fact that 79% of jobs will be transformed in the next three years, according to figures by IDC. Nor, as the Hong Kong Federation of Education Workers found, can it address the fact that over 70% of teachers remain anxious about remote learning platforms. These educators need to be empowered and inspired by the future, and we must address the digital literacy of students and educators for a vision of the world transformed by new technologies.
Since 2004, we have worked with the education sector on their digital transformation journey, equipping teachers to reimagine how remote learning can empower every student to achieve more. Through our Partner in Learning program with the Education Bureau, we have provided more than 20,000 hours of training to over 10,000 teachers in Hong Kong since then, equipping them with the tools to embrace new teaching modes, especially for students with special needs and with different learning styles.
Hong Kong’s students, parents, teachers, and schools have taken the initiative this year in their response to COVID-19. But as we start this new term, we should put these shared experiences into practice and learn to reimagine the skills our students will need to be future ready. As we draw closer to the fourth industrial revolution, we will continue to support and equip our educators with new skills and knowledge for remote teaching. Microsoft is committed to empowering students, parents, teachers, and schools as we look beyond and envision the future of Hong Kong.