School-book funding call rejected
The Education Bureau will not provide special funding to cover all the cost of teaching materials after their sales are separated from those of pupils' textbooks, despite demands from booksellers.
Education undersecretary Kenneth Chen Wei-on said yesterday the government could not promise to make up a shortfall in publishers' revenue if the separation - termed debundling by the government - goes ahead.
The bureau said on March 10 it had reached an agreement with publishers to sell textbooks and teaching materials separately, starting in the new school year in September.
But Chen said: 'The publishers demand that for every dollar deducted [from their sales revenue], we give the same amount in special funding to schools to buy teaching materials. The demand is unacceptable.'
At present, the price of textbooks includes the cost of teaching materials that are given free by the publishers to schools, meaning parents pay for the materials.
Publishers were asked to price and sell textbooks and teaching materials separately after a recommendation in 2009 from a review of e-learning development.
The plan was deferred for a year after publishers voiced opposition, saying it would take a long time to solve copyright issues.
Publishers froze the price of textbooks for 2010-11 in return for the deferral but parents are still complaining about the price.
'Textbooks for my three kids cost HK$12,000,' a mother said on a radio programme yesterday. 'A Form Five English textbook by Longman costs HK$560. Textbooks for liberal studies cost HK$800. There are no used books available as they are for the new senior secondary curriculum.'
Chen said it was unfair for parents to pay for materials they did not use.
'Not every teacher uses the teaching materials, but publishers give them to every teacher free of charge,' he said.
The Anglo-Chinese Textbook Publishers Organisation and Educational Publishers Association, which represent almost all 20 major publishers in Hong Kong, said on Monday the new policy should not be introduced for existing textbooks in the 2011-12 academic year.
They also released a price list for existing textbooks - on average 3 to 5 per cent more than in 2009.
Michael Ng Chi-wah, general manager of Excellence Publication Company and a member of the two groups, said they never agreed to defer the new arrangement for a year.
'The Education Bureau unilaterally said that. We just agreed to defer the discussion of it for a year,' he said.
'Over the past year, the bureau never put forward any feasible proposals for debundling. It just kept saying it would provide money for schools to buy the teaching materials. We don't know any details, like how much money will be set aside and when the money will be approved. The bureau avoids all these crucial questions. What should we do if the money doesn't materialise eventually? We will have produced all the teaching materials and suffered a big loss.'
But Ng said the publishers would separate the sale of new teaching materials released this year.
Consumer Council chief executive Connie Lau Yin-hing said parents were disappointed.
'The financial burden on parents is huge,' she said. 'Publishers should have a social obligation. Even if the schools don't use the teaching materials, they still dish them out to schools. It's a waste. If the situation remains the same and the government provides funding to cover all their cost, it will be a waste of public money.'