Liberal studies grants to dry up
Schools will not receive fresh funds to develop liberal studies material, because most schools have spent less than half of an initial HK$320,000 grant over two years, the education chief says.
Any remaining money from the grant can be used for a third year, to August next year, Secretary for Education Michael Suen Ming-yeung (pictured) said yesterday.
The Education Bureau's proposal comes amid concerns that thousands of teachers and assistants may lose their jobs because of a shorter secondary curriculum under educational reforms begun in 2009.
The lack of fresh funds in liberal studies would exacerbate the situation, a legislator said yesterday, adding that schools' spending figures only reflected the first year of the grant.
Nearly 2,500 teachers and 68 principals signed a petition last month asking the bureau to continue to subsidise schools for their liberal studies development. They said many teachers were facing already immense pressure because of the new curriculum, and the situation would only become worse if teaching assistants were fired because of a lack of funds. Many teachers were working at home after they knocked off at 7pm, they said.
Yesterday, Suen told lawmakers that 75 per cent of the 294 aided secondary schools had used less than half of the grant, according to annual accounts they submitted for the last academic year. He said 92 schools recorded an unspent balance of 70 per cent or above, while 33 had not spent a cent. 'It's inappropriate to take a one-size-fits-all approach,' he said.
'There's money in schools.'
Liberal studies, an exercise in reasoned thinking and debate, is a core subject for upper secondary pupils under the new curriculum.
The grant was meant to be a one-off subsidy for two years from 2010, though calls have emerged for fresh funds to be provided.
Suen said schools that needed more money to teach liberal studies after the third year could apply by August next year, and the bureau would consider the applications based on their use of the grant and financial situation. 'If they need more, or if they're facing difficulties, they can apply for additional subsidies, and we will consider each case independently.'
Democrat Cheung Man-kwong, lawmaker for the education sector, said many schools were using the grant to hire and develop teaching assistants. If the subsidy ended, as many as 1,000 would lose jobs.
Together with the impact of the shorter secondary curriculum - cut from seven years to six - cuts might mean more than 2,000 teaching staff would be sacked, Cheung said.
Some schools had used up the grant and it would be unfair for the bureau not to provide fresh funds, he said. 'The figures only reflect the situation of the first year of the grant, while many schools are saving it for the second year when the Diploma of Secondary Education kicks in.'
Cyd Ho Sau-lan, of the Labour Party, also said the bureau should continue to disburse the grant to the schools as some were in need.
The bureau will also terminate a grant for teacher preparation and another for development of the new secondary curriculum by the end of the academic year.
Cheung suggested the money be converted to recurrent subsidies or funds for schools to employ teachers.
Approximate number of pupils who took the liberal studies examination early this month, in the Diploma of Education