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LCQ15: Promoting reading culture
     Following is a question by the Hon Lau Kwok-fan and a written reply by the Secretary for Education, Mr Eddie Ng Hak-kim, in the Legislative Council today (November 23):
     Since 1997, the Government has provided aided primary and secondary schools as well as special schools with the Chinese Extensive Reading Scheme Grant and English Extensive Reading Scheme Grant (two reading grants), which aim at subsidising these schools in the procurement of Chinese and English reading materials to facilitate the development of reading habits among students, thereby enhancing their reading literacy. On the other hand, the Education Bureau (EDB) promulgated the updated Expanded Operating Expenses Block Grant User Guide in August 2016, in which the EDB stated that it would cease the provision of the two reading grants with effect from the 2016/17 school year. As a result, the amount of grant provided to an aided school each year will be reduced by a sum ranging from $8,298 to $34,468. In this connection, will the Government inform this Council:
(1) of the EDB's saving in annual expenditure by cancelling the two reading grants;
(2) of the regular programmes to be put in place by the EDB to promote extensive reading after cancelling the two reading grants; and
(3) as the Secretary for Education stated on September 20 this year that the main reason for cancelling the two reading grants was the substantial changes in students' reading pattern in recent years, including the increased use of online information and e-books, whether it has assessed the effectiveness of the efforts in promoting e-learning in schools; if it has assessed, of the outcome; whether it has grasped the present situation of setting up e-book systems by various aided primary and secondary schools as well as special schools?
     The Education Bureau (EDB) attaches great importance to nurturing the reading habits of students and has provided schools with various forms of financial support for this purpose over the years. To tie in with the implementation of the Chinese and English Extensive Reading Schemes (Reading Schemes), the Chinese and English Extensive Reading Scheme Grants (Reading Grants), together with recommended book lists, had been provided to public sector primary and secondary schools since the 1997/98 school year for purchasing suitable reading materials for students. Following the introduction of "Reading to Learn" as recommended by the EDB in 2002, promoting reading through the concerted efforts of teachers of all subjects has been the direction that schools work in. To move along with the times as well as to accommodate the change in students' reading patterns, schools have generally implemented different forms of school-based reading schemes, including online reading. Hence, the promotion of reading is not limited to the Reading Schemes. Since the inauguration of the current-term Government, the recurrent expenditure on all education levels keeps increasing every year. In tandem with the increasing funding support for education, the EDB has a duty to review, consolidate and rationalise provision to schools to ensure that public funds are spent properly and meeting the evolving needs. As a matter of fact, the Reading Grants are not the sole source of funding for schools to purchase reading materials. Schools can flexibly deploy various resources under the Expanded Operating Expenses Block Grant (EOEBG) to purchase books, multi-media reading materials, online e-databases, etc. The consolidation and rationalisation of resources will not cause any lack of funding for schools to promote reading. We will continue to promote "Reading to Learn" through different strategies and provide schools with necessary support and resources as appropriate according to students’ learning needs and in response to the latest development of the school curriculum.
     My reply to Hon Lau Kwok-fan's question is as follows:
(1) In the 2015/16 school year, the EDB provided each public sector primary and secondary schools with grants ranging from about $8,000 to $34,000 in total under the Reading Schemes. As the grants concerned have been subsumed under the EOEBG, we do not have any record on the relevant expenditure breakdown. Despite the cessation of the Reading Grants, the resources provided by the Government for schools have not been reduced. Compared with the 2015-16 Revised Estimate, the recurrent funding allocated for primary, secondary and special education in the 2016-17 financial year has increased by about $1.129 billion.
(2) Since introducing "Reading to Learn" as one of the four Key Tasks in the curriculum reform in 2002, we have been promoting reading among students proactively. Provision of the Reading Grants is only one of the supporting measures. We have been promoting "Reading to Learn" among students through diversified strategies, which include providing different types of reading resources and recommended book lists for each subject as well as organising seminars and reading-related activities, etc. To help take forward the strategies on promoting reading, we will, starting from the 2016/17 school year, enrich the teacher professional development programmes in respect of such contents as reading across the curriculum and information literacy at primary and secondary levels. The Quality Education Fund (QEF) has identified "Effective Learning and Teaching of Languages" as one of the priority themes under the area of Learning and Teaching for this school year. Schools may consider applying for the QEF for promoting reading in the light of their circumstances. Also, we have been encouraging schools to make good use of the relevant supporting initiatives of public libraries, the Hong Kong Education City (HKEdCity) and the Standing Committee on Language Education and Research, such as online reading platforms and the annual World Book Day Fest, for promoting a reading culture.
(3) As mentioned in the opening paragraph of this reply, the cessation of the Reading Grants is not entirely due to changes in reading patterns. In parallel with increasing funding support, we have to review and consolidate relevant resources to ensure proper use of public funds. As mentioned in part (2) of this reply, we will continue to promote extensive reading through different channels. Regarding e-learning, the Fourth Strategy on Information Technology in Education has been implemented in full swing for over a year with good progress in all initiatives. Among these initiatives, the establishment of Wi-Fi campus has been completed in around 80 per cent of some 1 000 public sector schools in Hong Kong. This enables students to search and read multi-media learning resources on the e-platforms of their schools or the Internet with mobile computing devices anywhere and anytime. According to our data collected through various means, schools are in general active in promoting e-learning and acknowledge the positive effects of e-learning on learning and teaching. Nearly 80 per cent of the schools have included e-learning as one of the major concerns of their school development plans. In sum, schools reflected that the learning motivation and self-directed learning ability of their students have been strengthened. With enhanced Wi-Fi infrastructure in place, more schools are willing to explore and implement different strategies to make optimal use of mobile computing devices, such as wider adoption of e-learning resources and e-assessment. To tie in with the development of e-learning, HKEdCity has launched EdBookShelf which is equipped with cross-platform feature since the 2014/15 school year. EdBookShelf not only allows students to subscribe for e-books by themselves but also enables schools to order and deliver e-books for their students online. EdBookShelf offers a wide range of e-books as well as learning and teaching resources, including reference books of different subjects, books for children, reference books for teachers and parents as well as leisure reading materials. Since its launch, EdBookShelf has been well-received by the school sector with total subscription volume reaching 1 237 000 items by the end of August 2016.
Ends/Wednesday, November 23, 2016
Issued at HKT 15:50
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