Traditional Chinese Simplified Chinese Email this article
LC: SED's speech on Second Reading debate on the Appropriation Bill 2008

    Following is the speech by the Secretary for Education, Mr Michael Suen, on Second Reading debate on the Appropriation Bill 2008 at the Legislative Council today (April 23) (translation):

Madam President,

    First of all, I would like to thank many Members for their concern over education.

    The Financial Secretary's budget has reaffirmed that developing human capital is a primary concern of the Government, and education is regarded as an important investment for promoting social development.  In 2008-09, education remains the largest spending area of the Government, accounting for about one quarter of total government expenditure.  Our target is to improve the overall quality of education, including pre-primary, primary, secondary and post-secondary education.

Education Initiatives Implemented in Recent Years

    Firstly, I would like to briefly mention the education initiatives implemented in recent years.  In respect of pre-primary education, we have implemented the Pre-primary Education Voucher Scheme progressively to provide fee subsidy for students and professional development for principals and teachers in kindergartens. 

    Additional staff is provided in primary and secondary schools to help them cope with the work arising from various reform initiatives.  These include curriculum leaders, specialised teachers, student guidance officers, teacher librarians etc.  Various cash grants are also provided for creating more room for teachers to implement integrated education as well as for the preparation of the new senior secondary (NSS) academic structure.

    On tertiary education, we have launched four rounds of Matching Grant Scheme with grants totaling $4 billion, established a $1 billion HKSAR Government Scholarship Fund, and greatly improved the Student Financial Assistance Scheme for post-secondary students attending self-financing programmes.

New Education Initiatives

    As for new initiatives, we will create the post of Deputy Head in public sector primary schools and implement free senior secondary education from September this year.  Starting from the 2009/10 school year, we will implement small class teaching in primary schools progressively and introduce the NSS academic structure and curriculum reform.  In addition, the graduate teacher ratios of primary and secondary schools will increase progressively from September this year to 50% and 85% respectively in the 2009/10 school year.

    In respect of post-secondary education, we will set up an $18 billion research fund, increase the number of publicly-funded places for postgraduate research programmes in phases and provide eligible students of self-financing post-secondary programmes (including associate degree and top-up degree programmes) with grants as well as low-interest loans for meeting living expenses.  From 2012 onwards, the duration of publicly-funded degree programmes will change from three to four years.

    Full implementation of these new initiatives incurs additional recurrent expenditure amounting to billions of dollars.  These measures affirmed  Government's determination and commitment to improve quality of education.  However, many members hoped we could allocate more financial resources to strengthen or expedite the improvement.

    I hope Members will understand and accept that all important education policies and initiatives need a long planning time and have to be implemented progressively year by year, often takes eight to ten years before full implementation.

    The new "334" academic structure and small class teaching are typical examples.  Government's recurrent financial commitment will not be fully reflected in the financial allocation of the year in which the announcement is made.  As a matter of fact, the total recurrent expenditure will be reflected only after a number of years when the initiatives are fully implemented.  Therefore, before deciding whether to revise existing policies or implement any new initiatives, we have to assess the long-term financial implications carefully, taking into consideration the overall allocation priorities of government resources and our ability to fulfil the commitment. 

Additional Time-limited Capacity Enhancement Grant (CEG)

    As for primary and secondary education, some Members are of the view that the Additional Time-limited CEG should be made recurrent.  I would like to make it clear that in applying for funding from the Finance Committee two years ago and when we offered the grant to the schools, we explicitly stated that the Additional Time-limited CEG would be time-limited for a period of three years.  Its purpose was to support schools in coping with the extra workload arising from the implementation of the Territory-wide System Assessment (TSA) and School-based Assessment (SBA) at the initial stage. 

    Now that the majority of schools have gradually integrated TSA and SBA into their curriculum and assessment framework.  For the SBA measures, suitable adjustments have been made earlier this month after extensive consultation.  The revised measures will be implemented progressively based on the consensus reached with various parties.  If necessary, recurrent funding for the NSS curriculum may also be used flexibly to support SBA work.  In other words, the objective of the Additional Time-limited CEG is largely achieved and it is difficult for us to turn this time-limited and purpose-specific grant into a recurrent one.

    We have re-examined the priority in resource allocation, and would put resources into initiatives such as preparation for small class teaching, implementing the NSS curriculum, enhancing support for students with special educational needs and improving the teacher-to-student ratio of secondary schools which best address the needs of students. 

Preparation for Small Class Teaching

    Regarding small class teaching, we have announced that it will be implemented progressively in public sector primary schools starting from Primary 1 in 2009.  I would like to stress that effective small class teaching is not simply about reducing the class size to 25 students.  What I hope is that primary schools could make the most out of small class teaching environment to improve learning and teaching.  In order to assist schools in preparing for small class teaching, we will create about 700 time-limited Certificated Master/Mistress (CM) posts for two years starting from the 2008/09 school year for schools having indicated their intention to implement small class teaching.  This would enable them to make preparation for school-based plans and facilitate teachers' participation in professional training, so that the culture of a whole-school approach for small class teaching will be developed for greater learning effectiveness.

    For those schools which are not yet ready to implement small class teaching, we hope that they can also map out some school-based teaching strategies to enhance learning and teaching.  Therefore, if these schools submit specific plans to enhance classroom teaching and apply for the necessary additional resources in the 2009/10 school year, we will be glad to provide them with an additional CM post in the coming year to help them with the preparatory work.

    The support measures I have just mentioned are to assist schools in preparing for small class teaching.  In the coming two school years, we expect additional resources in the region of $500 million would be incurred, not yet counting the investment into professional development programmes for teachers under planning and the long-term recurrent expenditure needed for implementing small class teaching and related initiatives.

Implement the NSS Curriculum

    To further support the development and implementation of the NSS academic structure, we intend to disburse the Senior Secondary Curriculum Support Grant one year earlier in the 2008/09 school year and increase its rate during the four-year transitional period of the new academic structure.  Our intention is to ensure that in the 2008/09 and 2009/10 school years, each secondary school offering the NSS curriculum will be provided with a cash grant sufficient for hiring at least one additional graduate teacher.  This would allow them to better prepare for implementing the NSS academic structure at its initial stage and to handle more effectively the heavy workload during the years when the old and new academic structures operate concurrently.  We anticipate that about $1 billion is needed for paying the grant in the coming four years.

Enhance Support for Students with Special Educational Needs (SEN)

    I also intend to strengthen the support for implementing integrated education (IE) in primary and secondary schools so that SEN students can be better cared for.  For secondary schools implementing IE, we plan to provide them with a Learning Support Grant starting from the 2008/09 school year.  The rates are $10,000 for each SEN student and $20,000 for each student with severe impairment.  For those schools admitting students with severe impairment, a basic grant of at least $120,000 will be provided. The total amount of grant is capped at the level of $1 million per school.

    For primary schools, we plan to improve the funding arrangement of the Learning Support Grant and also provide a basic grant of at least $120,000 for those schools admitting students with severe impairment starting from the next school year.  The ceiling of the grant will be raised from $550,000 to $1 million per school to better meet school needs.  It is estimated that an additional expenditure of about $270 million is required each year for full implementation of the above improvement measures in primary and secondary schools.

New Arrangements for Secondary School Places Allocation (SSPA) and Approved Class Size

    I understand that our schools are very concerned about the possible impact of declining student population in secondary schools in the next couple of years.  In 2002, the Audit Commission asked the Education Bureau to ensure cost-effective use of resources by reducing surplus school places.  Separately, to tie in with the NSS curriculum and for the benefit of students, we have stated clearly that the acceptable minimum class size should be at least three classes for each level in secondary schools.  We will continue the existing policy to ensure that government resources are properly used and students are provided with a reasonable choice of subjects to suit their development and interests.

    Against this background, we will introduce further mitigation measures to provide a relatively stable environment for our secondary schools, particularly those which may be under-enrolled due to a shrinking population and may have to face class reduction or even closure.  We hope that this will enable our schools to focus their attention on the implementation of the NSS curriculum.  However, I must reiterate that whether or not to introduce small class teaching in secondary schools is a separate issue.  Small class teaching must be premised on professional considerations and must aim at improving teaching and learning.  It is not a means for tackling class reduction or surplus teachers.  As a matter of fact, the teaching environment and subject choices in secondary schools are different from those in primary schools.  It is not appropriate to generalize the case of small class teaching in primary schools and extend it to the secondary schools.

    As to the specific relief measures, pending a full review in the 2011/12 school year of the standard class size in our secondary schools.  I am prepared to reduce the number of Secondary 1 (S1) students allocated under the SSPA system from 38 to 36 students in 2009 and further to 34 students in 2010.

    Moreover, I am going to relax the threshold for counting the number of S1 classes for secondary schools with surplus teachers in September this year from 35 to 33 students per class and further to 30 students per class in September 2009 to stabilize the teaching force.

    It is estimated that the above proposals will ultimately involve over $1.4 billion each year.  I believe that these measures will not only alleviate the concern of the school sector but also make real improvement to the teacher-to-student ratio of secondary schools.  This will help schools enhance the effectiveness of learning and teaching and, in particular, strengthen support for students with weaker family back-up.  I expect our schools to capitalize on the reduced class size and, taking into account their own needs, adopt school-based measures to better meet the needs of their students.

Development of Post-secondary Education

    Regarding post-secondary education, we published the Report of the Phase Two Review of the Post Secondary Education Sector two weeks ago, setting out the direction of our policies in support of the sector's long-term and sustainable development.  A total of 22 recommendations were made in the review, covering areas such as programme quality, recognition of qualifications, employment and further learning opportunities of students, support for institutions and financial assistance for students.  Over half of the recommendations relate directly or indirectly to quality improvement, which forms the focus of the review.  With the approval of the Finance Committee, we will provide more financial assistance for students and support for institutions.  In addition, the Government will continue to take the lead in enhancing the recognition of sub-degree qualifications.

    Some Members suggested that the tertiary institutions should be given the flexibility to make use of the unused quotas for non-local students to enroll more sub-degree graduates so as to increase their opportunities to pursue university education.  I would like to point out that such quota is only an upper limit.  The actual number of admissions will be decided by the institutions, taking into account the availability of facilities and manpower.  As the considerations relevant to the admission of local and non-local students, including those applicable to tuition fees and allocation of hostel places, are different, there is no plan to mix the use of the relevant quotas at this stage.  In fact, tertiary institutions are allowed to admit an additional 4% of students on top of the approved first-degree places. 


    President, the above new initiatives are to nurture talents and enhance the quality of our younger generation to keep pace with the social and economic development of the community.  We hope that the above initiatives will have the agreement and support of the education sector.

    Thank you President.

Ends/Wednesday, April 23, 2008
Issued at HKT 17:10


Print this page