Legislative Council

LC Paper No. CB(2)1313/98-99
(These minutes have been
seen by the Administration)

Ref : CB2/PL/ED

LegCo Panel on Education

Minutes of Meeting
held on Monday, 16 November 1998 at 4:30 pm
in Conference Room A of the Legislative Council Building

Members Present :

Hon YEUNG Yiu-chung (Chairman)
Hon CHEUNG Man-kwong
Hon LEUNG Yiu-chung
Hon Emily LAU Wai-hing, JP

Members Absent :

Prof Hon NG Ching-fai (Deputy Chairman)
Hon Mrs Selina CHOW LIANG Shuk-yee, JP
Hon SIN Chung-kai
Hon Andrew WONG Wang-fat, JP
Dr Hon YEUNG Sum
Hon CHOY So-yuk

Public Officers Attending :

Item III

Mr Joseph Y T LAI
Deputy Secretary for Education and Manpower

Ms Ellen CHOY
Principal Assistant Secretary for Education and Manpower

Mrs Fanny LAW, JP
Director of Education

Assistant Director of Education (Information Systems)

Item IV

Mr Joseph Y T LAI
Deputy Secretary for Education and Manpower

Mrs Margaret CHAN
Principal Assistant Secretary for Education and Manpower

Mrs Fanny LAW, JP
Director of Education

Miss C Y LAU
Senior Education Officer (School Management Initiative)

Item V

Mr Raymond YOUNG
Deputy Secretary for Education and Manpower

Mr Joseph Y T LAI
Deputy Secretary for Education and Manpower

Mrs Fanny LAW, JP
Director of Education

Assistant Director of Education (Chief Inspector of Schools)

Dr Nancy LEE
Head, SCOLAR Support Unit

Clerk in Attendance :

Mrs Constance LI
Chief Assistant Secretary (2) 2

Staff in Attendance :

Mr Stanley MA
Senior Assistant Secretary (2) 6

I. Confirmation of minutes of meeting
[LC Paper No. CB(2)620/98-99]

The minutes of meeting held on 21 September 1998 were confirmed.

II. Date of next meeting and items for discussion
[Paper No. CB(2)621/98-99(01)]

2. To enable the Administration to have a better understanding of members' concerns when proposing agenda items for future meetings, Mr CHEUNG Man-kwong suggested and members agreed that, starting from this meeting, representatives of the Administration should be in attendance when discussing future agenda items.

3. Members agreed to advance the next Panel meeting from 21 December to 11 December 1998 to discuss the following items -

  1. Improvements to practical schools
    (A paper would be provided by Hon CHEUNG Man-kwong);

  2. Improving the student-teacher ratio in primary and secondary schools;

  3. School-based assessment in the public examination system of the Hong Kong Examinations Authority.

    (Post-meeting note : Discussion of item (b) was subsequently deferred to the Panel meeting on 18 January 1999.)

III. Flexibility for schools in acquisition of IT facilities and services
[Paper No. CB(2)621/98-99(02)]

4. At the request of the Chairman, Assistant Director of Education (Information Systems) (ADE(IS)) briefed members on the salient points of the Administration's paper on the flexibility arrangements for schools in the acquisition of information technology (IT) facilities and services.

5. Mr CHEUNG Man-kwong indicated support of the flexibility arrangements proposed in the paper. He expressed concern, however, that some low-income families could not afford to purchase computers for their children. Referring to previous Panel discussions on the subject, Mr CHEUNG said that all students should have equal opportunities to acquire and practise the four basic IT skills (i.e. computer input, word processing, electronic mail and access to Internet) at school and at home. As the total provision for various initiatives to enhance the use of IT in school education amounted to $2.9 billion, he asked whether the Administration could use part of the provision to assist needy students to purchase their own computers.

In response, Director of Education (D of E) said that the initiatives were targeted at developing students' abilities to use computer and IT facilities, and schools and teachers played a pivotal role in the process. In view of the resource constraints, the Administration had planned, as a first step, to provide all schools with computers and to arrange IT training for teachers. On arrangements for students to practise their IT skills after school, D of E said that schools would be open for longer hours and computers would be installed at selected youth centres and libraries. Schools which had procured note-book computers were also encouraged to allow their students to take these computers home on a loan basis. As regards assistance to needy students, she noted that some voluntary agencies had organised collections of second-hand computers for donation to needy families.

6. Mr CHEUNG Man-kwong said that the Hong Kong Professional Teachers' Union had organised a campaign and allocated 300 second-hand computers to needy students. However, the supply was far from meeting the demand and many students were disappointed. He urged the Government to consider deploying part of the provision earmarked for teacher training to assist needy students to purchase their own computers. His proposal was supported by Ms Emily LAU and Mr SZETO Wah. Mr SZETO Wah pointed out that there were about 30,000 students from families receiving Comprehensive Social Security Assistance and they could not afford to purchase a computer at home. He suggested that serious consideration should be given to allocating part of the $2.9 billion provision to assist these needy students to purchase their own computers, so that these students would not lag behind others in the acquisition of IT skills due to lack of means.

7. Deputy Secretary for Education and Manpower (DS/EM) responded that the $2.9 billion provision was approved by the Finance Committee (FC) in 1997 for purposes specified in the relevant FC papers. He stressed that the various initiatives included in the FC papers were urgent and necessary in order to enhance the use of IT in school education. If there were unused funds after implementation of these initiatives, he would consider members' proposal of deploying some of the resources to assist needy students.

8. Ms Emily LAU expressed support of the Administration's proposed flexibility arrangements for acquisition of IT facilities and services. Noting the accommodation constraints in schools, she asked whether these computers allocated to primary and secondary schools would be accommodated centrally in a computer room or in different classrooms. She was concerned that students might not have sufficient opportunities to use these computers at school. Assistant Director of Education (Information Systems) (AD/IS) responded that while many schools planned to place their computers in a computer room, the Education Department (ED) had encouraged schools to place some computers in the classrooms and libraries to maximise the use of IT in the teaching and learning process.

9. Ms Emily LAU also enquired about the arrangement for individual schools to make use of any surplus cash grants to purchase advanced and more powerful computers. She asked whether ED could tender for the advanced models on behalf of schools. AD(IS) clarified that under the proposed arrangements, ED would continue to co-ordinate requirements of schools and arrange a central tender to acquire up-to-date models available on the market. For example, the current central tender would provide Pentium II 350 computers to schools. However, in view of the short product cycle of computers (normally 4-5 months), schools would be allowed to keep part of their funds for purchase of more advanced models coming on the market after the central tender. Ms Emily LAU welcomed the arrangement on the understanding that ED would continue to monitor usage of funds by schools.

10. Mr LEUNG Yiu-chung commented that the provision of 40 computers to each primary school would not be sufficient to enable all students to acquire IT skills within a reasonable time. To expedite the process, he suggested creating additional teacher posts in schools to undertake the extra work arising from promoting the use of IT in schools. These additional teachers could also provide professional support and advice to other teachers in using IT in the teaching and learning process. D of E responded that the allocation of 40 computers to each primary school was only an initial step towards using IT in education. It would take time for schools and teachers to adapt to the new culture of using computers and IT facilities in the teaching process. The Administration would keep a close watch on the progress of schools in this respect. AD(IS) added that apart from the professional advice and technical support provided to schools by the Information Technology Education Resources Centre, ED would also arrange a central tender for provision of technical support and maintenance services to schools on a regional basis. The arrangement would be more cost-effective than providing additional teachers to each school.

11. Considering the short product cycles of computers and high costs for acquisition of up-dated computers and accessories for all schools, Mr CHEUNG Man-kwong said that the Government should be prudent in planning more resources to increase the provision of computers to schools. In his opinion, the mission of schools was to provide students with access to computers and IT facilities and to equip students with the basic know-how. As there were limits in the time allowed for use of computers at schools, it would be more effective and fruitful to encourage students to practise their IT skills at home. In this connection, he urged the Government to promote the use of IT in families and provide assistance to needy students to buy their own computers. The Administration noted Mr CHEUNG's comments.

IV. Furniture and Equipment Grant to aided schools
[Paper Nos. CB(2)621/98-99(03) and CB(2)663/98-99]

12. Referring to a paper tabled at the meeting showing the expenditure pattern of primary, secondary and special schools under the Furniture and Equipment (F&E) Block Vote in the past three years, Mr CHEUNG Man-kwong said that the overall unspent balance of these schools was 7.5%, 20% and 40% respectively in 1995-96, 1996-97 and 1997-98 academic years. He pointed out that due to the complicated procedures for application of funds and the spending limits imposed on school principals, the schools had not been able to fully utilise the F&E provisions. As such, Mr CHEUNG Man-kwong considered it unfair to calculate the proposed special F&E Grant on the basis of actual expenditure of these schools. He also queried the rationale of differential rates for primary and secondary schools as these schools had similar F&E requirements. In this connection, he noted that the Union of Heads of Aided Primary Schools of Hong Kong, the Hong Kong Teachers' Association and the subsidized Primary Schools Council had forwarded submissions to the Panel objecting to the proposed rates of special F&E Grant. He therefore urged the Administration to further discuss with the schools on their F&E requirements. In response, D of E explained the mechanism for application of funds for replacement of F&E items. At present, schools were allocated the School and Class Grant for replacement of minor F&E items, and the current spending limits for aided primary and secondary schools principals were $3,000 and $8,000 respectively for each item. The arrangement was in line with usual Government accounting practice that the level of responsibilities should be commensurate with the rank of the officers. If the amount of an item exceeded the spending limit of the school principal, the school could apply to ED for the non-recurrent F&E subsidy under the annual estimates. However, if the spending limit of a primary school principal was to be raised to $8,000 (the same level as secondary school principals), the primary schools would have to absorb all F&E items below $8,000 within the School and Class Grant, while only those items above $8,000 could be funded by ED. The implication of this suggestion would therefore have to be further discussed with schools. DS/EM added that the spending limits only applied to schools which had not participated in the School Management Initiative (SMI), while SMI schools already enjoyed flexibility in the use of a recurrent F&E Grant allocated to them. The proposed special F&E Grant was on top of existing provisions for F&E and could be used by both SMI and non-SMI schools flexibly to purchase F&E stems to suit their needs. DS/EM said that the disparity in funding arrangements would be removed when all schools practised school-based management in 2000-01.

(Post-meeting note : The Administration added the following -

The SMI experience suggested that the availability of a reasonable level of recurrent F&E subsidy, together with other flexible measures, was a useful incentive and a necessary facility to help schools plan for their future needs.)

13. Mr CHEUNG Man-kwong remarked that even for SMI schools, differential rates of F&E Grants had been set for primary and secondary schools. As both secondary and primary schools provided similar services to students, there should not be much differences in their F&E requirements. He therefore urged the Administration to rationalize the funding arrangements. DS/EM pointed out that secondary schools offered more subjects than primary schools; the former also had more special rooms than the latter. This explained why differential rates were proposed for primary and secondary schools. With regard to the under-spending of the non-recurrent F&E subsidies, D of E said that according to the submissions tabled at the meeting, some school principals might have been discouraged by the procedures in applying for funds. Sometimes, the actual tender prices of items turned out to be lower than the estimated prices. ED would follow up with the school principals and encourage them to fully reflect their requirements when submitting applications for non-recurrent F&E subsidies. Consideration would also be given to the suggestion of raising the spending limit for primary schools and streamlining procedures in consultation with the school principals. However, consideration of revisions to the proposed rates of the special F&E Grants would have to be based on justifications. Pending further discussion with school principals, disbursement of the special F&E Grant would be deferred. The Chairman advised that ED should discuss with the schools the implications of raising the spending limit of primary school principals and the proposed rates of the special F&E Grant. Adm


14. Mr LEUNG Yiu-chung expressed concern about the inadequate provision of School and Class Grant to special schools. As there were less operating classes in special schools than normal schools, the actual amount of F&E subsidies for special schools was much smaller, even though the rates per class were higher. Moreover, the F&E requirements of special schools were substantially different from and more expensive than those of normal schools. As many F&E items in special schools were in urgent need of repair or replacement, Mr LEUNG suggested that ED should discuss with the Special Schools Council their requirements before determining the rate of the special F&E Grant. DS/EM noted the suggestion and reiterated that the special F&E Grant would be additional to existing provisions for F&E. All aided schools could still apply for the non-recurrent subsidy to meet larger-scale, one-off F&E purchases or other requirements under unforeseen circumstances.
15. Mr SZETO Wah suggested that ED should hold consultation meetings with the schools and concerned organisations before re-submitting the proposal to FC. Mr CHEUNG Man-kwong echoed the same view and urged the Administration to rationalise the funding arrangements as soon as possible to ensure a fair and reasonable allocation of funds among schools. In concluding the discussion, the Chairman advised the Administration to take note of members' suggestion and comments on the differential rates and funding mechanisms. D of E noted members' views and undertook to further discuss with the schools concerned. Adm

V. Teaching of English language in schools
[Paper No. CB(2)621/98-99(04)]

16. Mr CHEUNG Man-kwong referred members to the recent press reports about the operation of the Enhanced Native - speaking English Teacher (NET) scheme. Noting that some NET teachers had resigned shortly after the launching of the scheme, he expressed concern about the problems faced by NETs and the prospect of retaining these recruits under the scheme. Mr CHEUNG said that according to the press reports, the NET in schools was mainly assigned to teach English oral lessons in all classes, and each student could only have one minute communication with the NET on the average. The arrangement was unsatisfactory and was definitely not achieving the objective of the NET Scheme. To address the problem, he asked whether the Government could provide guidelines on the implementation of the scheme for schools to follow.

17. Deputy Secretary for Education and Manpower (2) (DS/EM2) responded that the Government was closely monitoring the implementation of the NET Scheme and the Standing Committee on Language Education and Research (SCOLAR) had commenced a project to evaluate the effectiveness of the NET Scheme. ED had noted that individual schools had adopted different practices in the deployment of NETs and ED would keep in touch with the schools to obtain a better understanding of their problems. Assistant Director of Education (Chief Inspector of Schools) (AD/CIS) supplemented that while schools were allowed great flexibility in the deployment of NETs, he agreed that the implementation in some schools as reported by the press was not satisfactory. To foster an English-speaking environment in schools, schools were encouraged to assign NETs to organise and participate in extra-curricular activities in addition to normal English lessons. ED was also organising experience - sharing seminars on a regional basis for school principals, English panels and NETs to identify and disseminate the best practices in English teaching.

18. Mr CHEUNG Man-kwong expressed concern that some NETs were disappointed by the living conditions, the teaching environment and the behaviour of some students in Hong Kong. He asked whether Government would introduce measures to help these NETs in their adjustment. In this connection, the Chairman asked whether Government had any role to play in addition to the co-ordination of the recruitment and induction programmes. AD/CIS responded that while it was basically the responsibility of the schools to help the NETs adjust to the teaching environment, ED could assist in co-ordinating experience-sharing sessions for the 337 NETs in different schools. To familiarize NETs with the living condition in Hong Kong during recruitment, candidates for NETs had been shown a video-tape on Hong Kong before the interviews. A one-week introduction programme and Saturday workshops were also arranged for new recruits to assist them in relocation and familiarisation. ED was now exploring the feasibility of organizing longer programmes for NETs. D of E added that based on the feedback of the consulates and NETs who had attended the induction programmes, there was no widespread or serious adjustment problem among NETs. The induction programmes and video-tapes had proven to be useful to most NETs. Nevertheless, ED would continue to liaise with schools and obtain feedback on the induction programme and seminars.Adm

19. In response to the Chairman, DS/EM confirmed that all public sector schools could apply for a subsidy of $30,000 from the Language Fund to set up an 'English Corner' in their schools, as a measure to promote English Language learning.

20. Mr LEUNG Yiu-chung and Mr SZETO Wah expressed reservation on the cost-effectiveness of the NET scheme. As each school would only have one or two NETs, it would be unrealistic to expect that the scheme could bring about significant improvement in the English language standard of students. Mr LEUNG Yiu-chung was of the view that a more comprehensive programme should be introduced, starting from primary schools, to improve the English language proficiency of students. DS/EM2 responded that it would be more appropriate to evaluate the effectiveness of the NET Scheme after a period of implementation. The Administration also shared the view that language enhancement programmes should start from primary education, and for this purpose the NET scheme was already being piloted in a number of primary schools with funding from the Quality Education Fund and the Language Fund. He also took note of members' comments on the NET scheme.

VI. Any other business

21. There being no other business, the meeting ended at 6:10 p.m.

Legislative Council Secretariat
12 February 1999