The New Digital Divide

At a reading event on Mother’s Day.


  • Making Reading Trendy

Among low-income families, parents have less time with their children and children are more likely to be exposed to the digital world.


James: Within Hong Kong’s NGOs, the question on how we interact with new immigrant families from mainland China is very difficult. Partly because of the cultural difference, and partly because if we talk about new immigrant families in Hong Kong, there are less support from the public due to the anti-mainland China sentiments. There are some things we want to do, which were quite difficult in the beginning when I tried targeting reading with new immigrant families. For instance, the parents’ expectations were different, because they hoped that I teach children to read more books from school, so that the children can do better in their homework, so that their academics are better: the parents cannot perceive that reading is something outside of the classroom. Doing reading promotion does benefit us because parents do like the idea; if we tell them we are doing something like playing video games like Minecraft, they may not be so interested, but Minecraft definitely has its own learning, too. My advantage is that I do reading promotion and the parents will be eager. At the same time, the disadvantage is that the children may think this will be boring. The challenge for us is while the children first come to us thinking reading will be boring, through our activities they will think that this is instead, fun.

The children of immigrant families do not necessarily need to improve their Chinese, because you know the Chinese of new immigrant children from mainland China is going to be better than that of ethnic minority children. If I have programs for ethnic minority children to learn Chinese, I use storytelling through which they can learn Chinese, and if I can add some Chinese children, these children will be also encouraged to like to read books more. My point is that I want them to like to read books more. This can allow them to change the idea of reading. This is a more long-term goal.


James taking out a book at Sung Wong Toi, a historical relic that is believed to honor the last two emperors of the Song dynasty.

For example, we have organized a Kowloon City area tour, which everyone does and it doesn’t sound that special, like if we go to Hau Wong Temple we introduce Hau Wong Temple, if we go to Sung Wong Toi we introduce Sung Wong Toi, but during the tour, I would relate every location to a book. We walk to To Kwan Wan [a district in Hong Kong], and there are many old buildings there, and in one area, there are many partitioned rooms [a feature typical in Hong Kong]. I might not bring the children up to the partitioned rooms, but I will take out a book about Hong Kong partitioned rooms to tell them a story about partitioned rooms. This will allow them to relate to these books, that there are some real stories in books, because a lot of children think that stories in the books do not exist in the reality and they cannot relate to it. Even as we pass by a firefighter’s station, I will take out a picture book about firefighters’ station and after they hear the story, the children will remember that in the book there is a little firefighter living in this place, and they may be able to relate that there are many real stories from books. This will hopefully motivate them to like reading more. For new immigrant families and local families, if they are motivated to read more books, then they are more able to explore their own interests and it’s not going to be just about academics. If they have a space to explore their own interests, they will not need to stay with the the idea that only through academics, they are able to change their lives. They can self-learn from books other things and may find their own directions and interests.

There is something called the digital divide. In the past, we talk about digital divide meaning low-income families don’t have computers at home, and they cannot go online without the internet and they can’t learn things. This was the typical intergenerational poverty example 10 to 20 years ago. When we talk about a new digital divide now, it’s about the “digital pacifier” (電子奶嘴) in low-income families, which is to say that children who are 2, 3 years old, when they cry they will be given an iPad or a phone, like a pacifier and they stop crying. The new digital divide is that within low-income families, parents do not spend a lot of time with their children to talk and communicate, because they can’t afford a lot of time. You will see a growing trend in which the children from low-income families spend a lot of time on games online or on the digital screen. The middle-class family has more time with their children and they will bring their children out to play, do sports and arts, or take other classes. This new digital divide is worrying. In this generation of new digital divide, we want to provide more reading and bring the children from low-income families away from the digital screen. It is one way of working with the new digital divide that we have today.