System puts book ordering on horror story list
Government schools are urging the Education Department to cut the bureaucracy causing serious delays in the supply of story books for their students.
School representatives say they have to wait months between ordering books and seeing them delivered, particularly if the titles are in English.
They have called on the department to abolish the current ordering system - which requires them to buy reading books from a few contract suppliers - and allow them to choose their own sources.
Ho Kwok-suen, a principal and chairman of the Education Department Consultative Committee (staff side), along with other school representatives, walked out of a recent meeting on the issue with officials after the assistant director of education (finance) Lesley Wong Chui Yue-chue did not turn up.
The problem was especially acute with English story books because the contractors often failed to locate the publishers in the West, Mr Ho claimed.
He said an added problem was that to benefit from the government's book grant, teachers had to go to book stores and exhibitions to choose titles, then complete the order list at the beginning of every school year in September. But the contractors often got back to them only towards the end of the first term in January - sometimes to tell them that they had failed to locate the books.
'The heat on Harry Potter, for example, had already gone by the time the books arrived. Although the department has been promoting reading, the monitoring system for government schools is so bureaucratic that teachers face tremendous difficulties in buying books for students to read,' said Mr Ho, who is also principal of North Point Government Primary School (AM).
Schools had to return any unspent funds from the grant in February, prompting them to pre-empt the problem by using the money for large numbers of Chinese story books, he said. This was depriving many students of the chance to read in English.
A new system for Chinese story books was introduced last year, allowing the schools to buy the books themselves if they had not heard from the supplier after two weeks or if they have not received the books in a month.
For English titles, schools can buy the books directly if they have not heard from the contractors within two weeks of ordering or have not received their copies within two months.
But schools say that this concept is flawed and complicated as they often do not know whether the books are on the way or not yet located.
Tien Wai-kwan, chairman of the Union of Graduate Officers in Government Secondary Schools, said that school librarians were wasting time and effort in chasing the story books they ordered.
An Education Department spokesman said schools' concerns were understood and were being addressed.
The department was liaising with the Government Supplies Department, he said, to introduce a more efficient system for next year.