Parliament Sitting on 4 June 2020
QUESTION FOR WRITTEN ANSWER
30. Ms Anthea Ong: To ask the Minister for Communications and Information with reference to the NEU-PC Plus Programme (a) before COVID-19, what was the rationale for the limit of one digital device per low-income household notwithstanding the number of children; (b) whether the Ministry will retain the COVID-19 enhancements to the Programme permanently; (c) whether the Ministry will enhance the Programme to (i) give every low-income household student a digital device and (ii) provide digital devices to low-income household students in pre-school or university; and (d) whether the Ministry will allow students on the MOE Financial Assistance Scheme to automatically benefit from the Programme without having to submit a separate application.
Mr Speaker, our approach to digital inclusion strikes a balance between providing help and using public funds prudently, in a manner that is fit for purpose. Hence the Infocomm Media Development Authority’s (IMDA) Home Access and NEU PC Plus focus on enabling access to digital devices and connectivity. This is done by providing one device to a qualifying household, which can be shared among household members, rather than providing one device to every individual in the household. This approach applies to students as well. IMDA’s NEU PC Plus scheme complements MOE’s existing provisions through the schools for students to access computing services.
2. However, the Government is also prepared to be flexible, especially when needs change. The COVID-19 pandemic and the adoption of system-wide Full Home-Based Learning for the Circuit Breaker period translated into a greater need for digital devices among families with school-going children. MOE and IMDA’s support schemes have therefore been modified and enhanced to broaden the criteria and to speed up delivery. For instance, students were given the option of borrowing devices through their schools. IMDA also began subsidising a second computer for large families with three or more children.
3. In addition, to extend more help to needy households, IMDA adjusted the criteria for the iNSPIRE fund, which helps families with the co-payment component, to include all students under MOE’s FAS Programme. IMDA and MOE have also streamlined and expedited the NEU PC Plus application process for students on MOE’s Financial Assistance Scheme.
4. The enhancements have helped many students and families. Since the start of the circuit breaker, school have loaned out more than 20,000 computing devices and 1,600 internet-enabling devices to students. IMDA has also supported around 3,000 households with subsidised computers or Internet connectivity, more than 5 times the demand during this same period last year. As a result, the majority of students have been able to participate in full Home-Based Learning, with participation averaging 96% across the levels.
5. Even with these measures, we recognise that some families have faced challenges in participating in Home-Based Learning during this period, due to either digital access constraints or other difficult circumstances. Looking ahead, MCI and IMDA are considering maintaining some of the enhancements to the schemes we introduced during the Circuit Breaker period.
6. As we enter Phase One and look ahead to Phase Two of reopening, MCI and MOE are working together to review students’ experience with digital access. We stand ready to help plug any gaps identified by the schools, which have not been addressed by existing measures.