There is a clear case for HK government publishing its own school textbooks

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 17 July, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 17 July, 2011, 12:00am


Anyone looking at the recommended textbook list released by the Education Bureau recently will be taken aback that less than five per cent of the new editions are unbundled from learning materials.

Despite mounting public demand, publishers are still only paying lip service to the policy of separating textbooks from learning material. The implementation of such a policy is long overdue and more stringent measures are needed.

This policy was supposed to be have come into force in 2010, but publishers said at the time they needed a transitional year to solve copyright issues. The government compromised in return for one-year freeze of textbook prices.

Now the publishers' pledge to 'gradually' unbundle textbooks and learning material in three years is unwarranted. They seem to be dragging their feet on the issue and keep talking about copyright issues.

This problem has remained unsolved for years thanks to government inertia. Finally getting tough and calling for the change after a one-year grace period is a step in the right direction. However, officials must also come up with long-term policies.

To show publishers and the public its resolve, the government should map out a timetable for bids for publication of textbooks in an effort to end monopolies.

Monopolies can be eradicated by inviting tenders for the publication of new books. This will open up the market. Some local tertiary institutions such as the Chinese University and the Polytechnic University publish their own textbooks. A bid process encourages keen competition and can ensure retail prices of books are kept at a reasonable level.

The should also consider restructuring the Curriculum Development Council. Its staff are familiar with the prevailing curriculum and textbook content. It is worth considering sparing some manpower for textbook publication. Hong Kong would not be the first administration to publish school textbooks. This has been done in Singapore. Similarly, we can capitalise on the human resources available to aid tertiary institutions in their textbook publication.

I do hope publishers will obey the government's ultimatum and stick to their promise regarding the unbundling of textbooks and teaching materials.

Borromeo Li Ka-kit, Kwun Tong