An Action-focused Community-based Study to Advance Equitable Quality Education for All
Vast disparities in students’ digital literacy competence within and across schools … had grave implications on the resulting inequities in educational access when all students had to learn online.
One early impact of the COVID-19 pandemic was the closure of schools and universities. From February 2020, Hong Kong students of all ages – as well as their teachers and parents – had to adjust very quickly to a new world of online learning.
It soon became clear that the challenges of adjusting to online learning were complex and were experienced unevenly throughout the community. A multi-pronged study, titled eCitizen Education 360 (e360), led by Professor Nancy Law of the Faculty of Education and supported by many community organisations was launched in May 2020. The project goal was (1) to understand the impact of the many interlinked factors, including inequities due to multifaceted digital divides, that affect student learning and their wellbeing, and (2) to come up with actionable findings to address challenges faced by students, parents, teachers and school leaders and to lay the foundations for co-creating a better, post-pandemic ‘new normal’.
e360 was an offshoot from a five-year longitudinal study ‘Learning and Assessment for Digital Citizenship’ (eCitizen), funded by the Research Grants Council under the Theme-based Research Scheme. The focus of the eCitizen project was study the impact of digital media on the learning lives of young people and students, and on their development as citizens in a world that is increasingly technology-intensive and globally connected. To achieve this goal, the study developed a set of reliable cutting-edge assessments of digital literacy. “With these instruments, we were able to compare students’ digital literacy competence across three age cohorts: primary 3, secondary 1 and secondary 3,” said Professor Law. The first assessment was conducted in early 2019. The findings, released in April 2020, showed vast disparities in students’ digital literacy competence within and across schools in each of the three age cohorts. Within the same class, some students had minimal digital competence, while some reached high levels of competence. The performance of the secondary students in some schools were lower than those in some primary schools. Such disparity had grave implications on the resulting inequities in educational access when all students had to learn online. The research also found that the divide in digital competence was compounded with inequities in digital access (access to large-screen digital devices and adequate internet connectivity) and family support for e-learning.
Given the challenges associated with continuing educational provisions during extended school suspension, the implications of the eCitizen research findings were widely publicised in the media. Community leaders in many sectors recognised the importance of this research, encouraged and supported us in all stages of the e360 study to reveal the status and diversities in online learning implementation and the complex interacting factors at work. The supporting organisations include professional teacher associations, principal associations, social service organisations, Hong Kong Education City, Cyberport Academy, and the Jockey Club Self-directed learning in STEM Programme. This wide community support was critical in achieving the action-oriented goal of the project. First, the team decided on a sequencing of the research themes to answer the most immediate and urgent action items. Second, leaders from the supporting organisations interpreted the findings, suggested actions and solutions to respond to the identified issues through e360 seminars, as well as mobilising such knowledge through their own activities and connections. e360 closed with a symposium in July 2021 in which community leaders in different stakeholder groups reviewed the outcomes of the community actions taken and made recommendations for policy and practice in different sectors to achieve the vision for a better new normal in education.
Professor Law had a very important message for parents based on the study findings: The single most important family-level factor influencing a child’s wellbeing is to maintain a good parent-child relationship. Take the time for non-judgmental listening, understand and empathise with your child, and help to build your child’s self-efficacy in learning.
Professor Nancy Wai Ying Law and her team members, Professor Ka Ki Catherine Chan, Professor Jimmy de la Torre, Mr Patrick Lam, Dr Min Lan, Miss Qianru Liang, Dr Elizabeth Ka Yee Loh, Dr Qianqian Pan, Professor Nirmala Rao, Dr Frank Reichert, Dr Cheng Yong Tan, Dr Ka Wai Gary Wong and Mr Yuxiao Zhang, received the Faculty Knowledge Exchange Award 2021 of the Faculty of Education for the project ‘Co-creating a New Normal of Empowered Learning through Digital Citizenship Research’.