Provisional Legislative Council

PLC Paper No. CB(1)436
(These minutes have been
seen by the Administration)

Ref : CB1/PL/ED

Provisional Legislative Council
Panel on Education

Minutes of Meeting held on Thursday, 9 October 1997, at 9:40 am in the Chamber of the Legislative Council Building

Members Present :

Hon YEUNG Yiu-chung (Chairman)
Prof Hon NG Ching-fai (Deputy Chairman)
Hon Mrs Peggy LAM, JP
Hon MA Fung-kwok
Dr Hon Mrs TSO WONG Man-yin
Dr Hon LAW Cheung-kwok

Members attending :

Dr Hon TANG Siu-tong, JP

Members absent :

Hon David CHU Yu-lin
Hon Eric LI Ka-cheung, JP
Hon Henry TANG Ying-yen, JP
Hon TSANG Yok-sing
Hon Andrew WONG Wang-fat, JP
Dr Hon Charles YEUNG Chun-kam
Hon IP Kwok-him

Public officers attending :

Mr Joseph W P WONG
Secretary for Education and Manpower

Mr Matthew K C CHEUNG
Deputy Secretary for Education and Manpower (1)

Mr Raymond YOUNG
Deputy Secretary for Education and Manpower (2)

Mrs Helen C P LAI YU
Director of Education

Clerk in attendance :

Miss Polly YEUNG
Chief Assistant Secretary (1)3

Staff in attendance :

Miss Pauline NG
Assistant Secretary General 1

Ms Sarah YUEN
Senior Assistant Secretary (1)4

Briefing by the Administration on the Chief Executive's Policy Address 1997
(Speaking note and booklet entitled "Quality Education " tabled and circulated to all PLC Members immediately after the meeting by general despatch)

The Secretary for Education and Manpower (SEM) briefed members on the Government's policy programmes on education and important new initiatives categorised under four headings, namely, reform and innovation, pursuit of excellence, school-based performance and quality teachers.

2.Members in general welcomed the initiatives proposed in the Policy Address and exchanged views with the Administration on the following issues.

Whole-day primary schooling

While welcoming the Administration's proposal to expedite the implementation of whole-day primary schooling, some members expressed concern over the need to increase the average class size in primary schools to 34.5 pupils and to temporarily withhold the reduction of class size at the secondary level as a result of the proposal. They urged the Administration to recruit more teachers to maintain a reasonable teacher-student ratio so as not to compromise the quality of education. In response, SEM reaffirmed the Government's determination to enable 60% of primary school pupils to study in whole-day schools by the school year 2002. He stressed that a slight increase in class size was necessary due to increased demand for school places resulting from the influx of newly arrived children, and to the shortage of school sites. The Director of Education (D of E) supplemented that it was not unusual for school principals to exercise discretion to adjust the size of classes to 34 or 35 according to needs, therefore the addition of two more pupils per class should not be considered unacceptable.

3.SEM also informed members that the Administration would provide travel subsidy to students who had to go to schools in another school net because of a shortage of school places in their own school nets.

School-based management

4.Referring to para 82 of the Policy Address on "Quality and Innovation ", a member opined that instead of providing only school principals with more flexibility in the use of funds to meet the schools' own plans and priorities, other key players in school management, especially the school supervisor, should also be given similar flexibility. In response, D of E emphasised that the spirit of school-based management was the involvement of all relevant players, including the principal, the supervisor and the school management committee, in school management, while clearly defining each player's role. The principal's role had been highlighted only to facilitate his work in involving teachers, students and parents in the development of school plans to meet the school's needs and to enhance the transparency of school operation.

5.Regarding the role of the Administration in school-based management and the available checks and balances to safeguard against abuse, SEM emphasised that the objective of promoting school-based management was to nurture partnership between the Administration and schools. While educational reforms involved the delegation of day-to-day management to individual schools, the Administration would continue to play an important role in formulating, co-ordinating and promoting various education policies and in identifying areas for review and reforms. He gave the example of the Government taking the lead in the application of information technology in education by co-ordinating the provision of equipment and staff training and launching pilot schemes. SEM's views were shared by D of E who supplemented that the Administration played an active role at the macro level. She referred to a number of statutory functions performed by the D of E, including the registration of teachers and the supervision of the use of school funds which were important regulatory activities to ensure that the school system functioned effectively. She however emphasised that public consultation and participation of schools and the community were very important in the development of quality education.

Tertiary education

6.Members noted the Administration's proposal to introduce a non-means tested loan scheme complementary to the existing means-tested Local Student Finance Scheme. Members noted that the loan, amounting to full tuition fees at its maximum, would be disbursed directly to the tertiary institution concerned. The interest rate would be set at a minimal level just sufficient to cover costs and to take into account associated risk factors. Repayment could be effected over a ten-year period after graduation to keep the monthly instalments at an affordable level.

7.Members welcomed the proposals to build 11,000 additional hostel places as well as to double the number of non-local undergraduates and taught postgraduates from 2% to 4% of the total student population, and to increase the ratio of non-local research postgraduates from 20% to one-third of the postgraduate population. In response to a member's suggestion that hostel places should be further increased to help nurture team spirit among students and promote cross cultural exchanges, SEM clarified that hostel places were available to all overseas post-graduate students.

8.As regards the details of the proposal to encourage tertiary institutions to take up greater responsibility for enhancing the language proficiency of undergraduates and the additional resources available for providing language training, SEM advised that owing to the need to respect the autonomy of the tertiary institutions, the Administration would not impose specific measures for them to adopt but would ask them to consider introducing exit language tests. He also informed members that additional resources in the form of language improvement subsidies amounting to $80 million would be provided through the University Grants Committee.

Language proficiency

9.In reply to questions on recruitment details of the new Native-speaking English Teachers (NET) Scheme, D of E explained that while the ED would co-ordinate the recruitment of NETs with the assistance of recruitment experts, large sponsoring bodies of schools would be allowed to conduct their own recruitment. She also emphasised that all NETs recruited under the Scheme were required to have native-speaking competence with relevant teaching experience, including experience in teaching English as a second language. She added that the Administration would not stipulate any restriction on race or countries of origin of the NETs.

10.In response to members' concerns about the standard of local language teachers, SEM stressed the importance of establishing appropriate language benchmarks for all new and in-service language teachers as a means of enhancing the quality of language teaching and students' English standard in the long run. He also assured members that training and retraining would be provided to enable language teachers to meet the language benchmarks within a reasonable time frame.

11.The meeting ended at 10:50 am.

Provisional Legislative Council Secretariat
4 November 1997