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LCQ9: Review of textbooks
     Following is a question by the Hon Ip Kin-yuen and a written reply by the Secretary for Education, Mr Kevin Yeung, in the Legislative Council today (May 2):
     Currently, publishers may submit their textbooks to the Education Bureau (EDB) for review. Textbooks which have been reviewed and considered as acceptable by the relevant textbook review panels in terms of content, learning and teaching, structure and organisation, language, textbook layout, etc. will be included in the Recommended Textbook List (RTL) issued by the Bureau for reference by schools in the selection of textbooks. It has been reported that recently, the textbook review panels of the Chinese History subject and the History subject made negative comments on the contents of certain textbooks submitted for review. If the publishers concerned do not revise the relevant contents, the textbooks in question will not be included in next year's RTL. In this connection, will the Government inform this Council:
(1) whether it knows the justifications based on which the relevant textbook review panels made the comments in the right column of the table below in respect of the words and sentences contained in the textbooks submitted for review, as shown inside quotes in the left column;
Extracts from textbooks Comments made by textbook review panels
"Hong Kong lies to the south of China" Inappropriate wording
The rise of "modern" Europe, an important episode in world history, has laid "the foundation of western predominance nowadays", resulting in the current globalisation process being led by European and American models. Debatable viewpoints
The outbreak of "the Second Sino-Japanese War in 1937" Inappropriate choice of diction
1."one-party dictatorship" of CPC
It was stipulated in the Common Programme dated as early as 1949 that the People’s Republic of China was under "one-party dictatorship" of CPC…
2. "Relationship between the party and the government: the government is inseparable from the party, and under one-party dictatorship of CPC"…
Inappropriate choice of diction and unclear concepts
In 1949, "the communist China was established and a large number of mainlanders relocated to Hong Kong" Vulnerable to misinterpretation as there is no direct causal relationship between the incidents
"China recovered Hong Kong" Inappropriate wording
"The transfer of Hong Kong's sovereignty to Mainland China" Inappropriate wording
"China insisted on recovering Hong Kong's sovereignty" Inappropriate wording
(2) whether the relevant textbook review panels have suggested directions and provided examples to the publishers concerned on ways to amend the textbook contents mentioned in (1);
(3) whether the comments made by the textbook review panels represent the stance of EDB;
(4) whether there is currently a mechanism for handling complaints lodged by publishers who disagree with the comments made by textbook review panels on the textbooks submitted by them for review; if so, of the details; if not, the reasons for that;
(5) whether EDB made public, in the past five years, the textbook review reports of the Chinese History subject and the History subject; whether there is currently a mechanism requiring EDB to make public, on a regular basis or after a certain number of years, textbook review reports; if so, of the details; if not, the reasons for that;
(6) of the reasons for not making public the membership of textbook review panels; the criteria and mechanism for selecting members of textbook review panels; the respective numbers of members in the textbook review panels of (a) the Chinese History subject and (b) the History subject in each of the past five years, with a tabulated breakdown by whether they were (i) primary school teachers, (ii) secondary school teachers, (iii) university teachers, (iv) officials of EDB or (v) other types of persons (please specify); and
(7) whether the textbook review panels of the Chinese History subject and the History subject have put forward suggestions to publishers that, in the course of compiling the contents on certain topics in modern Chinese history (e.g. "the rivalry and cooperation between the Kuomintang and the Communist Party of China", "socialist construction" and "reform and opening up") to be used in the textbooks for the subjects, certain historical standpoints should be adopted in relation to the use of historical materials, choice of diction, presentation of viewpoints, making of analyses and selection of pictures; if so, whether the principles for the adoption of historical standpoints must be similar to those adopted by the Mainland authorities; if so, of the details and examples?
My reply to the questions raised by the Hon Ip Kin-yuen is as follows:
     The Education Bureau (EDB) sets up a textbook review mechanism to ensure that textbooks included on the Recommended Textbook List are accurate in content, in line with the curriculum, of good quality and fit for student learning. Generally speaking, publishers are required to make reference to the latest guidelines on textbook printing and review issued by the Curriculum Development Institute of the EDB as well as the Textbook Writing Guidelines for each subject. Textbooks submitted for review are assessed by relevant subject review panels. Each textbook is to be assessed by about five reviewers of the subject review panel drawn from within and outside the EDB. Internal reviewers are members of relevant subject sections of the EDB, while external ones include serving principals, teachers, academics, and other professionals well versed in the subjects concerned. External reviewers are appointed on the recommendation of the relevant subject sections for a term of two years, and take turns to review different textbooks. The procedure is fair and impartial.
     There were about 57 to 74 members in the textbook review panel of the subject of History and about 45 to 85 members in the textbook review panel of subject of Chinese History in the past five years. We adjust the number of panel members according to actual needs. When an individual member ceases serving as a member of a textbook review panel prematurely for various reasons, the number of members of the relevant subject review panel might be adjusted accordingly.

     The textbook review and its content must be kept confidential. Textbook publishers (including authors), reviewers and the EDB are required to observe this rule of confidentiality. As the contents of review are for internal reference of textbook publishers only, they would not be disclosed to the public. This is to prevent such information from being used for publicity purpose or for tarnishing the reputation of the publishers/individuals concerned. The identity of reviewers should also be kept confidential. This long-standing mechanism has been in place for many years.  Relevant arrangements are formulated in the EDB's consultation with textbook publishers with input from the Independent Commission Against Corruption. The rule of confidentiality ensures that textbook review can be conducted fairly, objectively and professionally free from interference, pressure and bias. It is also an important safeguard against corruption. Textbooks that have passed the review mechanism will be available for sale in the market and members of the public will be able to monitor their contents.

     Incorporating the views of all reviewers, comments of review reports serve as reference for textbook publishers and authors to improve the quality of textbooks. Textbook writing includes making revision to textbooks upon receiving review reports. Textbook publishers are obliged to select the approach to writing and presentation. The textbook review panels and the EDB will not provide specific suggestions on how the text should be written in this regard, nor is it appropriate for them to do so.

     As the quality of textbooks would affect student learning, it is our duty to place serious requirements on textbooks. The basic requirements which are applicable to textbooks of all subjects include: the textbook should meet the aims and objectives of relevant curricula, learning objectives of the topics, as well as the needs of student learning, teaching and assessment. Moreover, as one of the aims of history education is to enable students to learn how to approach past events in an impartial and empathetic manner from different perspectives, and to help them acquire the methods to study history, including the skills to present objective, balanced, logical and coherent arguments supported by appropriate use of historical data. As such, contents of textbooks should serve this aim. The accuracy of information, comprehensiveness of contents, objectivity and rationality of arguments, and clarity of presentation and writing are also the requirements to be met by textbooks. If textbooks contain citations taken from historical materials/documents or various perspectives of historians and viewpoints of textbook authors (if any), it should be clearly stated to avoid causing misconception or confusion to students. Different historical perspectives or viewpoints should be presented clearly and logically together with arguments and conclusions. Unsupported conclusions are not desirable. Textbooks should be penned accurately with a smooth flow rather than abstractly, and displaying fluency in writing.

     Textbook review panels conduct their work in accordance with the above requirements. They examine textbook contents in context as a whole. The appropriateness of specific phrases is determined having regard to whether the phrases in question help provide clarity within the relevant context and support the arguments, as well as their impact on the presentation of the writing, etc.

     On the premise of integrity and confidentiality, we will not comment on media coverage of the review report of individual textbooks. The following lists out a few examples of the circumstances in which textbook review panels perform their professional duty of advising textbook publishers to revisit and revise certain parts of the textbooks submitted for review:

(a) mentioning the background and development of an event without clearly stating when it took place in history (ill-defined terms such as contemporary times, modern times, today are being used);

(b) citing certain features (such as geographical locations) to illustrate the advantages enjoyed by a place or the causes of a historical event but failing to give explanation as to how the features contribute to the advantages/historical event (why places with similar features are not able to enjoy similar advantages or trigger similar historical events); and

(c) inconsistency in terminology, such as using different terms to refer to the "War of Resistance against Japanese Aggression" in the same textbook.

     In addition, if unsupported viewpoints and stances, over-simplification of the cause-and-effect relationship of historical events, and inconsistency in presentation of viewpoints between textbooks and primary source materials, which may mislead students about the sources of the viewpoints concerned, are spotted in textbooks, textbook review panels will comment on them.

     As can be seen from the examples stated above, comments cannot be taken out of context. They should be read as a whole. On the understanding that textbook authors will for certain read and consider the comments together with the textbooks submitted for review, the comments are concise and precise. We have made it clear in our letter sent to textbook publishers together with the review reports that should they have any questions about the comments of review reports, they can approach us directly. We will be happy to explain the comments to them face to face. As a matter of fact, we have received such requests for meeting from time to time so that textbook publishers may explain their approach to writing and presentation.
Ends/Wednesday, May 2, 2018
Issued at HKT 15:35
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