Report of the Panel on Education for submission to the Provisional Legislative CouncilPurpose
This report gives an account of the work of the Panel on Education during the term of the Provisional Legislative Council. It will be tabled at the meeting of the Council on 7 April 1998 in accordance with Rule 77(14) of the Rules of Procedure of the Council.
2.The Panel was formed by resolution of the Council on 16 July 1997 for the purpose of monitoring and examining Government policies and issues of public concern relating to education matters. The terms of reference of the Panel are at Appendix I.
3.The Panel comprises 13 members. Hon YEUNG Yiu-chung and Prof Hon NG Ching-fai were elected Chairman and Deputy Chairman of the Panel respectively. A membership list of the Panel is at Appendix II.
4.The Panel monitored closely the development of key educational issues, in particular those issues on which firm commitment had been made in the Chief Executive's Policy Address.
5. On the policy of mother-tongue teaching, the Panel supported the Administration's issuance of firm guidance requiring schools to use Chinese as the medium of instruction from 1998-99 onwards. The Panel however noted with concern the unease over the Administration's commitment to implementing this policy following the announcement of 100 schools being allowed to use English as the teaching medium. In view of the appeal by 20 schools against the decision of the Vetting Committee requiring them to teach in Chinese, the Panel sought explanation from the Administration on the vetting criteria and procedures and reiterated the importance of impartiality and transparency in the vetting and appeal processes. As regards members' concerns about possible role conflict should any member of the Vetting Committee also sit on the Appeals Committee, the Panel noted that the chairman of the Vetting Committee and the Director of Education would abstain from the deliberations of the Appeal Committee convened to consider appeals from the schools. To strengthen support for the policy, the Administration was urged to take active measures to assure parents and the community of the merits of mother-tongue teaching, and to provide greater resources to schools adopting Chinese as the medium of instruction.
6.The Panel also examined the Native-speaking English Teacher (NET) Scheme which sought to provide 700 additional native-speaking English teachers for secondary schools in the 1998-99 school year for enhancing the English proficiency of secondary students. The Administration took note of members' suggestions of enlisting the assistance of NETs in developing school-based curriculum, strengthening training on English teaching for local teachers and further assured members that teachers recruited under the Scheme would have to meet the necessary requirements on qualifications and experience. On the proposed terms and conditions of employment for the NETs, in particular the monthly housing allowance and end-of-contract gratuity which compared more favourably than those of their local counterparts, most Panel members urged the Administration to align as far as possible the employment terms between local and expatriate teachers so as not to affect the morale of local teachers. The Administration took note of members' concerns and subsequently, in its funding request to the Finance Committee, adjusted the proposed monthly housing allowance and gratuity for NETs to be more in line with the entitlements for local teachers.
7.The Panel pursued with active interest the progress in promoting information technology (IT) in education, in particular the Administration's formulation of a five-year IT education strategy to promote the use of IT in enhancing teaching and learning. Members in general welcomed wider application of IT but on implementation, they stressed the need to equip teachers with the necessary training and to provide adequate supporting resources to schools. They also cautioned against adopting a hasty and rigid approach to achieve targets at the expense of schools' acceptance. The Panel would continue to follow up the formulation and implementation of the IT strategy.
8.The Panel welcomed the Administration's improved target of raising the percentage of primary pupils in whole-day schools from 40% to 60% by the 2002 school year in response to concerns about providing a school environment conducive to an all-round education. It nevertheless reminded the Administration not to compromise the quality of education, such as by unduly expanding the class size, in order to expedite implementation. Members also urged for greater cooperation among relevant bureaux and departments to resolve the competing demand for land for building more schools. Members also reviewed educational services for new arrival children from the Mainland, such as school placement assistance, Induction and English Extension Programmes, the School-based Support Programme and assistance rendered to new arrival children over 15 years of age. The Panel would keep the effectiveness of these measures under review.
9.Government spending on education and financial assistance to students were issues of concern to the Panel. Members exchanged views with the Administration on the proposed recurrent funding for the 1998-2001 triennium for the eight institutions funded by the University Grants Committee. [Further details to be provided after the March meeting]. On financial assistance to undergraduates, the Panel examined key features of the Administration's proposed Non-means Tested Loan Scheme and improvements to the existing Local Student Finance Scheme. Members also reviewed the current arrangements for textbook and stationery grants and urged the Administration to disburse such grants early, preferably before the commencement of each school year.
10.From July 1997 to March 1988, the Panel held a total of nine meetings.
Provisional Legislative Council Secretariat
24 March 1998