E-learning grants not enough, school heads complain

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 24 October, 2009, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 24 October, 2009, 12:00am

A one-off grant for individual schools proposed as part of a HK$140 million package to promote e-learning was far from enough, secondary and primary school heads said yesterday.

The grant, averaging about HK$50,000 for each of the city's 1,100 primary and secondary schools, would not buy the required basic equipment, the principals said.

They were speaking a day after a working group studying e-learning proposed the package, which included HK$40 million to HK$60 million for schools to buy e-learning resources in the next three years.

Aided Primary School Heads Association acting chairwoman Lam Wai-ling said schools needed at least HK$1 million each - not counting the cost of expert and professional support for the new system.

'An interactive whiteboard costs about HK$10,000, said Lam, principal of Tai Po Old Market Public School (Plover Cove). 'If each class uses one, this will cost about HK$300,000 per school. We have to count the cost of hardware and software that we are going to buy. We also need to spend a lot of money and time for experts, professional support and teachers' training.'

Hong Kong Association of Heads of Secondary Schools acting chairman Yuen Pong-yiu said e-learning needed huge resources.

'If a HK$3,000 netbook computer is be provided for each student, this will cost about HK$3 million for 1,000 pupils,' he said. 'HK$50,000 would only buy one piece of interactive application software.'

Yuen, principal of Tin Ka Ping Secondary School in Fanling, said he could not calculate the extra amount his school would need to pay.

The government-led working group that produced the report said e-learning, using interactive multimedia software, should eventually become the main mode of learning.

Internet Society chairman Charles Mok said the grants would do little to help develop e-learning. 'Provision of bandwidth is the basic tool for e-learning. For a school of 1,000 pupils, at least over HK$10,000 a month would be needed for this - not counting costs like other infrastructure and technicians,' he said.

The Education Bureau said funds were already provided to schools to buy teaching and learning materials.

The one-off grant would serve to help schools gradually switch from mainly printed resources to buying more e-learning resources.

Undersecretary for education Kenneth Chen Wei-on, who chaired the working group, said a proposed requirement for publishers to revise textbooks only every five years rather than the present three was 'not a bargaining process'. The change to a practice in place since 1980 was also recommended by the group, which said it would save money.

Chen said the money saved could be spent on teaching. 'If the prices of textbooks decrease in the coming years, it will lower the burden on the textbook and stationery grants scheme,' he said.

The report also recommended that from the 2010-11 school year, textbooks and teaching and learning resources, now sold together, should be 'debundled' so teachers and parents could choose to buy only what they needed.

Asked if the money saved on textbooks by the five-year rule could be used to help schools buy teaching resources from the publishers, Chen said this had not been decided.

'It depends on the actual needs of the schools,' he said.

Using the internet for learning had become a trend, he said. 'The most important thing is how to enhance learning efficiency and quality,' he said. Asked whether each pupil would need a computer, he said that still had to be studied.