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LCQ18: textbook prices
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     Following is a question by the Hon Starry Lee and a written reply by the Secretary for Education, Mr Michael Suen, in the Legislative Council today (June 3):

Question:

     A survey conducted by a political party in April this year revealed that about 60% of the responding parents of students considered that the high prices of textbooks posed a heavy financial burden on them, about 80% indicated that schools did not consult them when selecting textbooks and most parents considered that the Government failed to monitor the prices of textbooks properly.  In this connection, will the Government inform this Council:

(a) whether the Education Bureau will consider using the prices of textbooks as one of the criteria for drawing up the Recommended Textbook List; if it will, of the details; if not, the reasons for that;

(b) whether it will call on schools to proactively collect parents' views on the selection of textbooks by schools through holding consultation meetings with parent-teacher associations, conducting questionnaire surveys and distributing opinion forms for completion and return by parents; if it will, of the details; if not, the reasons for that;

(c) whether it will call on schools to adopt parents' affordability as the prime consideration in selecting textbooks, and buy reference books, storybooks and music textbooks for borrowing by students; if it will, of the details; if not, the reasons for that;
 
(d) whether it will call on schools to state clearly on textbook lists if textbooks of old editions may be used; if it will, of the details; if not, the reasons for that; and

(e) given that the Student Financial Assistance Agency provided each eligible student with a grant of $1,000 in the 2008-2009 school year, whether the Government will consider giving the relevant grants to all primary and secondary school students in Hong Kong in the 2009-2010 school year, so as to alleviate parents' financial burdens of school-related expenses in the new school year?

Reply:

President,

(a) The Education Bureau (EDB) is very concerned about the issue of textbook prices, and has been communicating with textbook publishers' associations, school councils, the Consumer Council, Committee for Home-School Co-operation and Independent Commission Against Corruption to explore feasible ways to lower the prices of textbooks.  Following the principle of not interfering with the free market, EDB has been implementing the following measures to monitor and regulate textbook prices:

(i) imposing the "three-year rule of no revision" on all textbooks on the Recommended Textbook List (RTL), and strictly enforcing this rule;

(ii) issuing the "Guidelines for Printing of Textbooks" to publishers for reference, and requesting them to make use of appropriate printing methods, paper and design with low cost features to reduce the production costs of textbooks;

(iii) requesting publishers to separate the production costs of a textbook from those of other learning resources, e.g. CD-Rom, and put them for sale separately;

(iv) urging publishers to uphold their integrity and adhere to their proper code of business practice, and not to provide schools with any form of advantages or donations to influence their choice of textbooks while adding the related costs to the textbook prices;

(v) reminding schools not to accept advantages in any form or donations offered by publishers, and appealing to schools to include textbook prices, in addition to good quality, as one of the textbook selection criteria;

(vi) encouraging teachers to develop suitable learning resources by means of their professional knowledge and creativity, and to use the free teaching and learning resources available on the EDB's website as supplementary teaching materials to enhance teaching effectiveness and reduce their reliance on textbooks; and

(vii) encouraging schools to organise used textbooks donation activities to promote students' environmental awareness and ease parents' financial burden.

     The Working Group on Textbooks and E-learning Resources Development (WG) was set up by the EDB in October last year to make recommendations on the future development of textbooks and e-learning resources.  The WG will examine the provision and prices of textbooks and study the feasibility of wider use of e-learning resources.  It is anticipated that the WG will submit its report and recommendations to the Secretary for Education in September 2009.

     Regarding the publication of textbooks, the role of EDB is mainly to monitor the quality of textbooks and provide guidelines and the RTL for schools' reference in the selection of textbooks.  For this reason, EDB's textbook review criteria mainly focus on the content, learning and teaching, language and technical design of a textbook.  We consider it impractical to include textbook prices as one of the textbook review criteria for the compilation of the RTL because different textbook publishers have different modes of commercial operation and it is not possible for EDB to draw up a standard set of rules for determining the reasonable prices of textbooks published by different publishers.  A more feasible approach is to request publishers to list the prices of their textbooks for teachers' reference to facilitate the textbook selection process.  After prolonged negotiation, textbook publishers have agreed to follow this practice.

(b) The EDB issued a Circular Memorandum on "Notes on Selection of Textbooks and Learning Materials for Use in Schools" in April 2009 to remind schools that parents' views on textbook lists may be collected through parent-teacher associations and other channels.  In addition, the WG is currently conducting a parent questionnaire survey on the development of textbooks and e-learning resources through the Hong Kong Education City website at http://www.hkedcity.net/edb/parentsurvey .  The WG has issued a letter to parents through the school principal of each primary and secondary school, inviting them to express their views on textbook quality, prices and supply and the development and application of e-learning resources by completing an online questionnaire.

(c) In the Circular Memorandum mentioned above, EDB also requests schools to consider the price and weight of a textbook when selecting textbooks and learning materials, and encourages schools to exercise their bargaining power in the process of textbook selection and compare the prices of textbooks on the RTL in addition to their quality.  When equally suitable textbooks or learning materials are available, careful consideration should be given to their prices to maximise value for money and lessen the financial burden of parents.  In addition, schools are advised, where appropriate, to mark reference materials such as dictionaries and atlases with "for reference only" on the school textbook lists so that parents and students having similar materials can choose whether to buy them or not.  To enable better use of resources, EDB further suggests that schools can purchase a few copies of the reference materials and put them in the classrooms or the school library for students' use.  Story books and other supplementary reading can be used by students on a rotational basis and the costs can be shared among them.

(d) In the same Circular Memorandum, EDB specifies that the textbooks lists compiled by schools should contain sufficient details of items such as the exact title, edition, name(s) of author(s), publisher, price and weight of each textbook.  It should also be clearly stated on the lists that textbooks marked with the word "reprint" in the RTL are not new editions.  Schools should indicate clearly that "Second-hand textbooks can still be used" against the title(s).  Teachers should distribute free of charge the addenda or corrigenda provided by publishers to students using second-hand textbooks, or inform students of the minor changes.

(e) The Government is deeply concerned about the impact of the recent economic downturn on the livelihood of citizens.  Following the relief measures announced in the 2009-10 Budget, the Financial Secretary announced a new package of economic relief measures on May 26, 2009.

     To alleviate the financial burden of needy parents, one of the relief measures is to disburse, outside existing financial assistance schemes, a one-off grant of $1,000 each for students from kindergarten to post-secondary education who are eligible to receive means-tested financial subsidies (Note 1) in the 2009/10 school year under the various student finance schemes administered by the Student Financial Assistance Agency, or students from kindergarten to secondary education who are eligible in the same school year for the flat-rate grant for school-related expenses under the Comprehensive Social Security Assistance Scheme.  The proposal involves additional expenditure of around $570 million.  We expect that around 570,000 students will benefit from the measure.

     We plan to seek the approval of the Finance Committee of the Legislative Council before the close of the current legislative year in order to ensure that the one-off grant of $1,000 could be disbursed the soonest possible in the 2009/10 school year.  Parents/students in receipt of the grant can make use of it flexibly to meet their education-related expenses in ways best suited to their needs.


Note 1: These students include those eligible to receive means-tested subsidies under the Tertiary Student Finance Scheme íV Publicly-funded Programmes, Financial Assistance Scheme for Post-secondary Students, Tuition Fee Reimbursement for Project Yi Jin, Tuition Fee Reimbursement for the Financial Assistance Scheme for Designated Evening Adult Education Courses, School Textbook Assistance Scheme, Student Travel Subsidy Scheme, Examination Fee Remission Scheme and eligible kindergarten students under the Kindergarten and Child Care Centre Fee Remission Scheme, as well as kindergarten students who have opted to continue receiving means-tested assistance based on the formula of the former Child Care Centre Fee Assistance Scheme after the harmonisation of pre-primary services.

Ends/Wednesday, June 3, 2009
Issued at HKT 16:10

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