Plan for HK$140m e-learning trial

PUBLISHED : Friday, 23 October, 2009, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 23 October, 2009, 12:00am

A three-year trial to promote electronic learning - reducing reliance on textbooks - has been recommended next year as part of a HK$140 million package that also seeks to stabilise textbook prices by preventing publishers from revising books too often.

This has emerged from a year-long government review on e-learning development, prompted last year by public concern over hefty rises in textbook prices in recent years. Publishers attributed the price rises to the need to update contents and the cost involved in the development of teaching materials for schools. Critics said digital books should take over from printed textbooks.

In a report released yesterday, the working group that conducted the review said e-learning should become the main mode of learning.

As a start, it recommended a three-year pilot scheme, costing HK$40 million to HK$60 million, be run in 20 to 30 primary and secondary schools in the next school year.

It would be about the use of more interactive multimedia software to supplement learning, according to the working group.

'Students can do scientific experiments by using interactive computer software so that they can try different scenarios in a safer and more comfortable environment,' undersecretary for education Kenneth Chen Wei-on, who chaired the working group, said.

A further HK$40 million to HK$60 million should be provided to all schools to buy equipment, initially mainly software, the report said.

The rest of the HK$140 million was to be spent mainly on development of an e-payment platform on the HKEdCity website.

The working group recognised the importance of textbooks as a learning tool but said teachers 'need not regard textbooks as the only teaching materials'.

'Teachers may use textbooks when designing learning and teaching activities. They may exercise their professional judgment to select suitable materials, exercises and tasks from textbooks, together with other sources, to design their own learning and teaching materials to cater for students' needs,' it said.

But the report recommended publishers be allowed to revise their textbooks only every five years, rather than the present three. 'The measure can reduce the frequency of textbook revision, thus addressing the complaints of the public. In the long run, it can also help stabilise textbook prices,' the report said.

It also recommended that from the 2010-11 school year, textbooks and teaching and learning resources should be 'debundled' so teachers and parents could choose to buy only the resources that fit their needs.

Consumer Council chief executive Connie Lau Yin-hing, also a working group member, said 'debundling' was in line with the user-pays principle and teachers would be able to get proper teaching materials of their own choice.

The proposals were broadly welcomed by principals, teachers and parents, but publishers had reservations. The Anglo-Chinese Textbook Publishing Organisation and Hong Kong Educational Publishers Association said the five-year revision rule would prevent pupils from obtaining updated information.

They said 'debundling' involved complicated issues. 'The sector hopes the government strikes a balance among the interest of parents, teachers, and publishers,' the groups said in statement. But they supported the development of e-learning.

St Paul's Convent School principal Sister Margaret Wong Kam-lin said the 'number one issue' was how schools and parents would pay for the on-line materials.

'Often teachers don't use the whole textbook, only part of it. E-learning should potentially be cheaper for schools because they only have to pay for the materials they actually use,' she said.

Professional Teachers' Union vice-president Eddie Shee Shing-chung said the union supported the proposals but he was concerned about the cost and the burden on teachers and parents. 'I am afraid the amount of money they are talking about is not enough. It will involve the installation of broadband, e-books, software design and development and choice of materials. It will take a lot of manpower,' he said.

With e-books, teachers would also have to adapt their teaching style and methods for preparing lessons.

Hong Kong Parents' Association chairman Lai Tsang-hing said the proposals would be good for the environment and for pupils both educationally and physically. 'School bags won't be so heavy because they will have fewer textbooks, which will be good for their health. E-learning will help the students to learn independently and they will be able to access learning materials at any time from mobile devices.

'But these proposals may not lead to a reduction in the price of textbooks for parents. It depends on how much it costs the publishers to develop the e-learning materials.'

Main recommendations

Launch of a three-year 'Promoting e-learning' pilot scheme in 20 to 30 primary and secondary schools in the 2010-11 school year.

Expediting and strengthening of the development of the 'Depository of Curriculum-based Learning and Teaching Resources' at the primary and junior secondary levels with additional resources from the 2009-10 school year.

Disbursing of a one-off grant to all primary and secondary schools in the 2009-10 year for buying e-learning resources in the next three years.

Setting up of an e-commerce platform for e-learning resources and an online community for teachers at the Education City website.

Debundling of textbooks and learning and teaching resources for pricing from the 2010-11 school year.

Changing of textbooks' 'three-year rule of no revision' to a 'five-year rule of no revision' from 2010-11.

Educational organisations, charities and universities to be encouraged to help develop e-books and materials.

In-depth studies to be launched on copyright issues in e-learning materials and the possible effects of more frequent computer use on students' health.