Provisional Legislative Council

PLC Paper No. CB(1)996
(These minutes have been
seen by the Administration)

Ref : CB1/PL/ED

Provisional Legislative Council
Panel on Education

Minutes of Meeting held on Friday, 16 January 1998, at 10:45 am in Conference Room A of the Legislative Council Building

Members present :

Prof Hon NG Ching-fai (Deputy Chairman)
Hon Mrs Peggy LAM, JP
Hon Henry TANG Ying-yen, JP
Hon MA Fung-kwok
Hon TSANG Yok-sing

Member attending :

Hon Mrs Selina CHOW, JP

Members absent :

Hon YEUNG Yiu-chung (Chairman)
Hon David CHU Yu-lin
Hon Eric LI Ka-cheung, JP
Dr Hon Mrs TSO WONG Man-yin
Hon Andrew WONG Wang-fat, JP
Dr Hon Charles YEUNG Chun-kam
Hon IP Kwok-him
Dr Hon LAW Cheung-kwok

Public officers attending :

For all items

Mr Joseph LAI
Deputy Secretary for Education and Manpower (3)

Mrs Helen C P LAI YU
Director of Education

For Item III

Chief Executive
Curriculum Development Institute

For Item IV

Ms Olivia NIP
Principal Assistant Secretary for
Education and Manpower (6)

Assistant Director of Education (Schools)

Clerk in attendance :

Ms Connie SZE-TO
Senior Assistant Secretary (1)1

Staff in attendance :

Ms Sarah YUEN
Senior Assistant Secretary (1)4

1.The Deputy Chairman took the chair in the absence of the Chairman, who had other engagements.

I.Confirmation of minutes of meeting and matters arising

(PLC Paper No. CB(1)797)

2.The minutes of the Panel meeting held on 19 December 1997 were confirmed.

II.Date and items for discussion for next meeting

3.Members agreed that subject to the Administration's confirmation, the agenda for the next regular meeting to be held on Friday, 20 February 1998, at 10:45 am would include the following items -

  1. Demand and supply of primary and secondary school places;

  2. Safety provisions of school transport; and

  3. Strategy on education on information technology.

III.Revision of textbooks

(PLC Paper No. CB(1)773(01), a letter from a member of the public commenting on various aspects of textbooks tabled at the meeting and circulated to members vide PLC Paper No. CB(1)814(02))

4.The Chief Executive, Curriculum Development Institute (CE/CDI) briefed members on the present arrangements to reduce unnecessary revision of textbooks. Members noted that as a result of the arrangements, the number of unnecessary revisions had greatly decreased in recent years, thereby reducing the need to buy new textbooks and hence, parents' financial burden.

5.A member remarked that revisions for updating information would enhance the quality of textbooks. In response, the Director of Education (D of E) clarified that the arrangements elaborated in the paper were only directed at reducing unnecessary revisions. Amendments to update information would be allowed although the Administration would always encourage the publishers concerned to print supplementary or replacement sheets instead of reprinting the whole book.

6.The member also pointed out that buying of new textbooks would still be necessary as students were accustomed to writing answers in the exercises printed in the textbooks. Representatives of the Administration said that second-hand books inevitably contained notes jotted down by the previous users and therefore many students preferred using new books. Whether to purchase new books was therefore very much a personal choice. Nevertheless, the Administration undertook to relay to publishers for further consideration members' comments that exercises should be placed in separate workbooks but remarked that this might have little effect on reducing parents' financial burden as they still had to buy new workbooks. Admin

7.On the appropriateness of the Administration's proposal to charge fees from publishers for textbook reviews, representatives of the Administration explained that it was not the Government's practice to censor textbooks. Publishers were not required to send draft copies to the Reviewing Panels for vetting unless they wished to have their textbooks included in the Recommended Textbook List issued by the Education Department (ED) for schools' reference. In reviewing the draft textbooks, the Reviewing Panels would check for factual information and balanced presentation in the text. In view of the unsatisfactory quality of some of the draft copies received where there were errors in wording and printing, the Administration opined that the proposal would prevent abuse of the Reviewing Panels' service, encourage publishers to better prepare their drafts and as a result would enhance the quality of textbooks as well as reduce the need for revision later. In reply to members, the Administration advised that it was still considering the details. The initial thinking was to vary charges according to the amount of reviewing work involved and that fees for reviewing textbooks on subjects where there were inadequate supply of textbooks might be waived to encourage publishers to publish more textbooks for the subjects. Admin

8.Commenting on suggestions made in the letter tabled (PLC Paper No. CB(1)814(02)) such as the use of lighter paper and publishing textbooks in separate volumes to reduce the weight, and improving the layout to facilitate easy reading, CE/CDI assured members that similar suggestions were being experimented with or examined by publishers. He undertook to bring the suggestions to the attention of publishers but cautioned that publishing textbooks in separate volumes, which was the increasing trend, would lead to higher printing costs.

9.To address members' concern about the availability of sufficient Chinese-medium textbooks to facilitate the implementation of the policy on medium of instruction, the Administration advised that as reported in the Medium of Instruction Guidance for Secondary Schools, the Government had since 1986 been encouraging the publication of Chinese-medium textbooks through the Chinese Textbooks Incentive Award Scheme and there was already a good selection of Chinese-medium textbooks available. Members noted that publishers had recently pledged to produce more quality Chinese-medium textbooks in response to increasing demand resulting from implementation of the policy on mother-tongue teaching.

IV.Review on direct subsidy to kindergartens

(PLC Paper Nos. CB(1)784(01) and 814(01))

10.The Assistant Director of Education (AD of E) briefed members on the findings of the review on the Kindergarten Subsidy Scheme (the Scheme) and the Administration's preliminary proposals. D of E drew members' attention to the fact that the proposals were still under consideration and were by no means final.

Improvements to the Scheme

11.Members in general supported the proposal to change the present mode of subsidy based on the size of enrolment to one directly linked to teachers' salaries with a view to encouraging kindergartens (KGs) to employ more qualified teachers without transferring the burden to parents. However, they doubted that the Scheme would achieve its objective, given the limited financial resources. Noting that the Government's annual provision of subsidy of $120 million would only be able to cover about 12% of the total expenditure on teachers' salaries if all non-profit-making KGs joined the Scheme, some members pointed out that the level of subsidy was too low and should be raised to cover at least 50% of the expenditure in the long run while some other members further suggested that the Administration should subsidise the salaries of teachers in full.

12.Referring to the lower wastage rate, higher percentage of trained teachers and higher average annual salary for teachers in KGs which had joined the Scheme, the Administration stressed that the Scheme had been effective in improving the quality of KG education.

13.The Deputy Secretary for Education and Manpower (DS/E&M) stressed that whilst it was not Government's policy to fully subsidise KGs, Government had taken various steps to ensure that no children would be unable to attend KGs because of financial difficulties. One of the objectives of the Scheme was to lessen the pressure on KGs to increase school fees as they employed more Qualified Kindergarten Teachers (QKTs). Concerning the total annual provision of subsidy, DS/E&M said that an additional $35 million had been earmarked for the 1998-99 school year for the purpose. Moreover, apart from the Scheme, there were other forms of financial assistance to ensure that no child would be denied the opportunity to receive pre-school education because of a lack of means. These included, for example, fee remission (budget set aside for this purpose would amount to over $320 million for 1998-99), reimbursement of rents and rates for non-profit-making KGs (budget set aside for this purpose reached $150 million in 1997-98) and reservation of units in public housing estates for operation of non-profit-making KGs. Members noted that, as a ballpark estimate, an annual provision of about $2 billion could be required to effect full funding of teachers' salaries in KGs. This had to be considered against many other competing demands. DS/E&M pointed out that a more cost-effective deployment of available resources made possible by the new mode of subsidy might be the better way forward. D of E and AD of E added that despite various efforts to promote the Scheme, many eligible KGs did not join the Scheme and only half of the provision allocated for the Scheme was used in 1996-97. The proposed new formula was designed to meet KG operators' concern that subsidy should be linked with teachers' salaries.

14.Members opined that the low level of subsidy and stringent requirements of the Scheme might have discouraged KGs from joining the Scheme. To enhance the attractiveness of the Scheme, they urged the Administration to raise the level of subsidy, relax the requirements and raise the eligibility cut-off point. In response, D of E advised that the eligibility cut-off point had already been raised from 1.2 to 1.5 times of the weighted average school fee of non-profit-making KGs in the previous school year. To safeguard parents' and students' interests, there was a need to impose a reasonable ceiling on the school fees charged. As for the attractiveness of the Scheme, the Administration envisaged that the percentage of non-profit-making KGs which would join the Scheme might increase from the present 60% to over 70% if the new mode of subsidy was adopted.

Demand and supply of Qualified Kindergarten Teachers (QKTs)

15.The Administration informed members that to further enhance the quality of KG education, at least 50% of teachers in each KG should be QKTs with effect from September 1999 in order to be eligible for the Scheme. The percentage would be further increased to 60% by 2000. Members noted that to boost the supply of QKTs to meet the above requirement, the Hong Kong Institute of Education (HKIEd) would organise more training courses. The Administration had also raised the recruitment requirements of KG teachers so that starting from September 1998, the minimum requirements for new recruits would be two passes in the Hong Kong Certificate of Education Examination, of which one would have to be either Chinese Language, Chinese Literature or English Language. A higher salary would also encourage existing Qualified Assistant Kindergarten Teachers (QAKTs) and new recruits to receive proper training to become QKTs, whose recommended salary scale ranged from MPS point 7 to 18 (i.e., at present level around $12,000 to $22,000) as compared to MPS point 3 to 11 for QAKTs (i.e., at present level around $9,000 to $15,000).

16.As to on whether there would be a cut-off date after which KGs were no longer allowed to employ QAKTs or untrained teachers, the Administration stressed the need to allow QAKTs to stay in employment pending sufficient supply of QKTs. As the supply of QKTs grew, the number of QAKTs and untrained teachers in KGs would decline by natural wastage.

17.To address members' concern about the provision of QKT training to meet the new pledges in 1999 and 2000, AD of E advised that of the existing 8,000 KG teachers, there were already 3,244 QKTs and 2,638 QAKTs. The HKIEd had already ceased organising the QAKT Training Course in 1997-98 and would provide more than 1,000 QKT training places annually in the following three years. The expanded QKT training programme would be able to boost the supply of QKTs by approximately 10% each year.

18.As regards the contents and quality of the QKT Training Course, AD of E advised that the course was jointly designed by professionals in the training of KG teachers and child care workers. Members were assured that the 360-hour in-service QKT Training Course, covering both theories and practical sessions, would well equip its graduates for work in both kindergartens and child care centres.

19.Some members opined that as good leadership was instrumental to enhancing the quality of KG education, KG principals should be required to attain higher qualifications. Commenting on the proposal, the Administration advised that it was already a stated policy that starting from 2004, KG principals would be required to have the Certificate in Kindergarten Education qualification. To tie in with this development, the HKIEd's Certificate in Kindergarten Education programme would be expanded. As regards further enhancement in qualifications of KG teachers and principals, members noted that the Administration had no such plan at present. However, they were assured that the Administration was committed to providing quality education and further steps would be taken towards this direction in future.

20.Referring to Hon CHOY So-yuk's motion on "review of the local pre-school education policy" carried at the council meeting on 14 January 1998, the Deputy Chairman urged the Administration to provide more resources for the provision of pre-school education and to seriously consider members' views expressed at the meeting. In response, DS/E&M undertook to relay members' views to the Government. Admin

21.The meeting ended at 12:45 pm.

Provisional Legislative Council Secretariat
16 February 1998