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Press Release: HKU Study Reveals Widened Digital Competence Divide during COVID-19 Period Affecting not only Academic Learning but also Students’ Wellbeing – Findings from a Longitudinal Study of Hong Kong Students’ Digital Citizenship Development
新聞稿:港大研究揭示新冠疫情期間學生數碼能力差距擴大均影響學生學業與身心健康 — 香港學生數碼公民素養發展的縱向研究結果

Updated on May 03, 2022 (Tue)


HKU Study Reveals Widened Digital Competence Divide during COVID-19 Period Affecting not only Academic Learning but also Students’ Wellbeing

Findings from a Longitudinal Study of Hong Kong Students’ Digital Citizenship Development


The findings from the longitudinal component of the Learning and Assessing in Digital Citizenship (“eCitizen”) Project were released today (May 3).  The “eCitizen” Project is a longitudinal study that investigates how key aspects of digital citizenship develop from childhood to early adulthood and how contexts, such as school and home factors contribute to this development. This project is funded by the Research Grants Council under the Theme-based Research Scheme, and it is conducted by an interdisciplinary research team and led by Professor Nancy Law, Deputy Director, Centre for Information Technology in Education, Faculty of Education, The University of Hong Kong (HKU). The research team comprises prominent researchers from HKU and the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology and international experts, from the fields of Education, Learning Sciences and Learning Technology, Computer Science and Engineering, Social Science, Arts, Journalism, Paediatrics and Adolescent Medicine.


Analyses of the changes that took place between 2019 and 2021 show that though the general digital competence of students have improved, students’ digital competence gap within and across schools have increased significantly. The study also revealed significant increases in the percentage of students reporting serious mental health and internet addiction conditions in all three age cohorts studied: primary, lower secondary and upper secondary.


Over 2,000 students from 18 primary schools and 14 secondary schools took part in the study. The first wave of data collection from primary 3 (cohort 1), secondary 1 (cohort 2) and secondary 3 (cohort 3) students was conducted in the 2018/2019 school year. The second wave of data collection was conducted on the same set of students from April to July 2021, more than a year after the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.


Major findings

Students’ digital competence in 2021, and the growth and development observed since 2019:

  • A significant increase in students’ digital literacy (DL) is observed for all cohorts. Moreover, it is observed that the DL performance of primary 5 students in 2021 was similar to secondary 1 students in 2019, and secondary 3 students in 2021 significantly outperformed the secondary 3 students in 2019.
  • While most students improved in their DL, there are some students in each of the cohorts who had in fact regressed in their DL.
  • On the other hand, the students’ mean collaborative problem-solving ability, another aspect of digital competence, did not improve over the two years.

Differences in digital performance exist within and between schools:

  • The within school and between school DL performance gap has increased significantly over the two years, and the widening gap was even more serious at the secondary school level.
  • In all three age cohorts, students in some high performing schools were able to improve their DL greatly while keeping a relatively small DL divide within the school; the reverse is observed in some other schools.
  • In 2021, the primary 5 students’ DL performance in the best performing primary school was better than the overall DL performance of the entire cohort 3 (secondary 5) students.
  • In 2021, the secondary 5 students’ DL performance in the lowest performing secondary school was poorer than the overall DL performance of the entire cohort 1 (primary 5) students.

Digital literacy divides and students’ socioeconomic status (SES):

  • The study adopted two family SES indicators: Academic Social Capital (based on the parents’ education level and the number of books at home) and Home Resources (based on whether the student has their own room, own study desk, and/or a quiet place to study).
  • Family SES is positively related to students’ DL achievement, but only significant for the two younger cohorts.
  • Academic Social Capital is more important than the Home Resources in influencing students’ DL score and the extent of the growth between 2019 and 2021.
  • The effect of SES on DL achievement was observed only at the school level, meaning that the overall DL performance of students studying in schools with higher mean SES were higher, but an individual student’s family SES did not affect his/her individual DL compared to students in the same school.

Hong Kong students’ wellness changes between 2019 and 2021:

  • Students’ mental health deteriorated significantly during the two waves of data collection, with the percentage of students reporting severe mental health problems increasing from 6.2% to 13.5% for cohort 2 students, and from 9.5% to 17.9% for cohort 3 students. 9.2% of surveyed primary 5 students reported suffering from serious mental health problems in 2021.
  • The percentage of students reporting symptoms indicative of Internet addiction also increased from 8% in 2019 to 20% for secondary students, and 15% of primary 5 students reported symptoms of Internet addiction in 2021.
  • The extent to which students reported game addiction did not change much during the two years, with a higher level reported by cohorts 1 & 2 students at 7% to 8% and by cohort 3 students at 4% only. There is a higher percentage of boys reporting game addiction than girls for all three cohorts in both 2019 and 2021.
  • About 25% of students experienced cyberbullying either as a bully and/or as a victim during the three months before the survey in 2021. There is a high correlation between being a bully and being a victim (0.53), and 40-50% of the students who had experienced cyberbullying reported having been both a victim and a cyberbully. There is a high probability for those who reported having experienced cyberbullying in 2019 to also report having experienced cyberbullying in 2021 (40% in cohort 1, 62% in cohort 2, 57% in cohort 3, and 55% averaged across all three cohorts).

Digital technology use, digital literacy, and students’ wellbeing:

  • Due to sustained periods of schooling suspension, students have been spending much more time online for learning and for leisure activities. This also increased the probability for students to encounter negative digital experiences (e.g. online security problems and being cyberbullied), or to engage in problematic digital behaviour (e.g. engaging in risky online communications or to cyberbully others). Such experiences could be a source of stress that leads to threats to their wellbeing.
  • Our analysis shows that DL is a protective factor that suppresses the potential negative impact associated with time spent on using digital devices on mental health.
  • In all three cohorts in both 2019 and 2021, we find that the total effect of time spent on digital devices on mental health to be not statistically significant. This indicates that the significant increases in mental health problems from 2019 to 2021 were due to other factors that were not directly related to the amount of time students spent on digital devices.

What activities contribute to students’ DL development?

  • Our study found that only exploratory learning activities (e.g. seeking for information online, discussing schoolwork with peers or teachers) at home has a positive and significant correlation with students’ DL performance, and this relationship was even stronger in 2021.
  • Learning activities that are tightly directed by teachers, whether conducted at school or at home are negative predictors of students’ DL achievement, and this negative relationship was even stronger in 2021.
  • Engaging in digital leisure activities at home was a positive predictor of DL performance in 2021.

Were there sustained negative impact on DL development for students without large screen devices in 2019?

  • Students who did not have access to large screen devices (LSDs) at home in 2019 suffered in their DL achievement. The adverse effect is more prominent for the older students involved.
  • For the primary students who did not have LSDs in 2019 but had LSDs in 2021, they were able to catch up with the rest of the cohort.
  • For cohorts 2 & 3 students without LSDs in 2019, they were able to achieve similar growth as the rest of their cohorts, but the difference in DL achievements remained.

Implications of the findings

“From the findings, we can see that the overall digital literacy of students across the primary and secondary grade levels have greatly improved during the period 2019 to 2021 to surpass the achievement reached by students in a comparable age group in 2019. This is possibly due to the pervasive use of digital technology for learning and for leisure during the pandemic. However, the greatly increased digital competence divide is extremely concerning. Moreover, we see that the DL divide was much increased in 2021 even though a large majority of students already have LSDs at home and students’ growth in DL did not suffer if they had LSDs in 2021. This shows that simply improving digital devices access cannot solve the widening problem of the digital literacy gap,” said Professor Nancy Law, who led the study.


“There is an awareness that on-line and off-line blended learning is here to stay even after the pandemic, but how should this be done to foster digital literacy and build online resilience is the challenge,” said Mr So Ping Fai, Principal of Tin Shui Wai Methodist Primary School and a member of the eCitizen Advisory Committee, who further pointed out that most teachers lack understanding of DL.


“The challenge we are facing is no longer access to devices or the lack of technical skills. We need to help children develop soft skills such as the ability to differentiate facts from opinions, to identify fake news, and to be able to focus and self-regulate their own activities online,” Mr Charles Chan, Executive Director of the Boys and Girls Clubs Association of Hong Kong commented.


Mr Eugene Fong, a board member of the Child Development Initiative Alliance, argued that there is an urgent need to also raise the awareness and understanding about DL among parents as well as the general public, as they are also digital citizens.


Professor Law expected the gigantic DL divide to negatively impact on students’ academic learning and further exacerbate the overall learning divide among students. Mr Stanley Kam, Vice Chairman of The Hong Kong Association for Computer Education, expressed the hope that further research can shed light on the extent to which students’ learning has been affected due to the pandemic, and in what ways students’ DL and other factors made a difference to students’ learning outcomes.


“The greatly deteriorated mental health situation and other digital wellness conditions are deeply worrying. It is good to know that DL serves as a protective factor for students’ wellbeing. Research has shown that online resilience has to be facilitated through digital technology use and not simply through restrictions.” Professor Law said in conclusion, “It is imperative that measures be taken to support schools and teachers in developing appropriate learning environments and activities that will foster digital competence and resilience. Concerted efforts involving community sectors in addition to the educators are necessary to address the wellness challenges and the learning divides uncovered through this research.”


For more details of the “e-Citizen” Project, please visit To review the e-version of the press release, and download photos and presentation file, please visit


For media enquiries, please contact Ms Emily Cheung, Senior Manager (Development and Communications), Faculty of Education, HKU (Tel: 3917 4270 / Email:, or Dr Sisi Tao, Project Manager, Digital Citizenship Project, Faculty of Education, HKU (Tel: 3917 7636 / 5693 5940 / Email:


May 3, 2022


Supplementary information

Digital citizenship is about whether students have the competence and the disposition to use digital technology. It is an important capacity for the individual to be able to live, learn and participate effectively as a citizen in the digital society, and for their future career. Findings on HK students’ digital citizenship growth and factors influencing their development help us to better understand the challenges that students, families, teachers, and schools are facing now after the long periods of intermittent extended school closure due to COVID-19 pandemic, and what needs to be done when onsite schooling resumes.


Digital literacy (DL) is a core component of digital competence — the capacity of citizens to exercise their rights and responsibilities in a pervasively digitally integrated world. The 2019 study results show that most students have mastered the basic skills in all the five key areas of DL: information and data literacy, communication and collaboration, digital content creation, digital safety, and problem solving using information and communication technology. However, most students’ competence levels are not adequate to handle complex tasks. For example, they are unable to formulate a good search statement with multiple, well selected keywords to get good, focused results, or evaluate the relevance or credibility of information (e.g. to identify fake news and harmful phishing messages). Most students were also not able to formulate communications suited for a particular purpose or a specific audience.









2,000 名分別來自 18 所小學和 14 所中學的學生參與了研究。第一輪數據收集於2018-2019 學年期間進行,參與學生分別來自小學三年級(組一)、中學一年級(組二)和中學三年級(組三)。研究團隊於20214月至7月期間(即在新冠疫情爆發的一年多後),再對這些學生進行第二輪數據收集。



關於2021 年學生的數碼能力,以及自 2019 年以來觀察到的長與發展:

  • 所有三個年齡組別的學生數碼素養都顯著提高。此外,2021 年小五學生的數碼素養表現與 2019 年的中一學生相若,而 2021 年中三學生的表現則明顯優勝於 2019 年的中三學生。
  • 雖然大多數學生的數碼素養有所提高,但在三個年齡組別中均有一些學生的數碼素養不進反退。
  • 另一方面,學生的平均協作解難能力(數碼能力其中一環)在兩年後未見有所提升。


  • 校內和校際的數碼素養成績差距在兩年顯著擴大,在中學組別中差距的擴大幅度尤明顯
  • 在所有三個年齡組中,有一些表現優異的學校,其學生的數碼素養成績都有幅進步,而在同校學生之間的數碼素養成績差距一直相對較小。然而,亦有一些表現一般的學校,其情況剛好相反。
  • 2021 ,來自平均表現最好的小學的小五學生,其數碼素養成績比整個組三的中五學生的整體表現更為勝。
  • 2021 ,來自平均表現最差的中學的五學生,其數碼素養成績比整個組一的小五學生的整體表現更為差劣。


  • 研究採用了兩個家庭社經地位指標學業社會資本父母的教育程度和家中藏書量來衡量)和家庭資源以學生是否有自己的房間、書桌和安靜的學習場所來衡量)。
  • 家庭社經地位與學生的數碼素養成績呈正相關,但此關聯僅對較年幼的組一和組二學生才達到顯著水平
  • 學生的數碼素養分數和其在2019 年至 2021 的增長幅度來說,學業社會資本比家庭資源更影響
  • 社經地位對數碼素養成績的影響僅可見於層面,意思是來自學生平均社經地位較高的學校的學生,他們的整體數碼素養表現,但若比較同校的學生,個別學生的家庭社經地位並不影響他們在同級同學中的個人數碼素養表現。


  • 在兩輪數據收集之間,學生的精神健康狀況顯著惡化趨勢,報告顯示嚴重精神健康問題症狀的學生比例在組學生中從 6.2% 增加到 13.5%,在組學生中 9.5% 增加到 17.9%2021年,高達9.2% 參與調查的小五學生報告顯示有嚴重精神健康問題的症狀。
  • 報告顯示網成癮症狀的中學生比例 2019 年的 8% 增加到2021 20%。在2021年, 15% 的小五學生報告顯示有網成癮症狀。
  • 打機成風險學生比例在兩年內沒有顯著變化,組和組學生有此風險的比例較高,分別各有7% 8%而僅4% 學生有打機成風險。在 2019 年和 2021 年的所有三個年齡組別中,報告有打機成癮風險的男比例都高於女
  • 大約四分之一的學生報告在2021 年接受調查之前的三個月內,曾以欺凌者和/或受害者的身份經歷過網絡欺凌。欺凌者和受害者之間存在高度相關性 (0.53)四成至五成曾經歷過網絡欺凌的學生表示他們既是網絡欺凌者又是欺凌受害者。在 2019 曾表示經歷過網絡欺凌的學生,亦更有可能在 2021 同樣經歷網絡欺凌(組一 40%組二 62%組三 57%,所有三個組別平均為 55%


  • 由於學校持續多次長時間停課,學生自然地更多的時間在網上學習和消遣,這也學生有更多機會遭遇負面的網上經歷(例如網上安全問題和被網絡欺凌)或參與不良網上行為(例如進行高風險網上社交或網絡欺凌他人)。這樣的經歷可能會使學生精神受壓,進而威脅到他們的身心健康。
  • 研究分結果顯示數碼素養可以作為一種保護因素,減低使用數碼設備的時長對精神健康造成的潛在負面影響。
  • 無論是 2019 還是 2021 ,對於所有三個年齡組別的學生來說使用數碼設備的時間長短精神健康體影響沒有達到統計學上的顯著水平。這表示有其他與學生使用數碼設備的時間長短無直接關係的因素導致學生 2019 年至 2021 年間的精神健康問題顯著加劇。


  • 研究發現只有家中的探索學習活動(例如在網上查找資訊、與同或老師討論功課)與學生的數碼素養表現顯著的相關,在 2021 的結果中兩者的關聯有所加強。
  • 由老師密切督導的學習活動,無論是在家中抑或校內進行,都與數碼素養呈負相關, 2021 的結果中這種負面關有所加強。
  • 2021 的數據可見,在家中進行數碼休閒活動是數碼素養表現的正面預測因素,表示對數碼素養有著積極影響。

2019 家中沒有可使用的大屏設備,會否對學生的數碼素養發展造成持續負面影響?

  • 2019 的調查發現,學生如果家中無法使用大屏幕設備,他們的數碼素養表現亦會受到負面影響。影響對於年齡較大的學生來說更為明顯
  • 2019 有大屏幕設備的小學生,如 2021 年調查時報告已有大屏幕設備,都能趕上其他同級同學的表現
  • 2019 有大屏幕設備的組和組學生,如在 2021 年有大屏幕設備的話,能表現出與其他同級同學相進步幅度,但與2019年已有大屏幕設備的學生之間的實際表現仍然存在差異。


帶領該研究的羅陸慧英教授指出:「從調查結果可以看到中小學學生的整體數素養在2019 年至 2021 年期間有大幅進步,超2019 時期同齡學生的表現。這可能由於疫情期間學生經常會使用數碼科技進行學習和休閒活動然而,日益擴大的數碼能力差距非常令人擔憂。雖然在2021年絕大多數學生家中都有大屏幕設備可用,而且即使是在後來才擁有大屏幕設備的學生,他們在2021年的數碼素養能力的增長亦未見受到不良影響,可是我們2021年時仍可看學生之間的數碼素養差距比兩年前幅擴大,由此可見單憑改善或擁有數碼設備不足以解決數碼素養鴻溝的問題。」














傳媒查詢請聯絡香港大學教育學院高級經理(發展及傳訊)張可恩女士 (電話:3917 4270 / 電郵﹕ 香港大學教育學院「數碼公民素養的學習與評估」項目經理陶思思博士(電話:3917 7636 / 5693 5940 / 電郵﹕





數碼公民素養關乎學生是否具備使用數碼科技的能力及取向。這是身為公民在數碼社會中生活、學習、積極參與,以及開展職業生涯的重要能力。計劃中有關香港學生作為數碼公民的發展和影響其發展的因素的研究結果有助我們進一步了解因 2019 冠狀病毒疫情而停課的學生、家庭、教師及學校所面對的挑戰,以及復課時需要留意及處理的事項。