Electronic textbooks that are coming on to the market under a government funding scheme will be on average 20 per cent cheaper than traditional printed textbooks - and could herald a new era of paperless learning for Hong Kong students.
The secretary for education, Eddie Ng Hak-kim, said yesterday that his bureau would soon launch a trial run of paperless learning that would involve 88 schools.
He said the bureau would grant HK$26 million to the companies and non-profit organisations that produce 30 sets of books under the E-Textbook Market Development Scheme during the trial. "At this stage we are focusing on the effectiveness [of electronic textbooks] during experiments," he said.
The e-book scheme was announced by former education minister Michael Suen Ming-yeung, who had faced years of criticism over the dominance of a "cartel" of a few key textbook companies in the industry, which created an aggressive pricing environment at the expense of students.
The Consumer Council, which reported that some of the teaching materials were priced higher every year although they only underwent slight or no modifications, will also scrutinise the e-books.
Eight of new e-book sets cost more than the print versions.
Under the funding scheme, publishers receive a grant of up to HK$4 million, subject to conditions, that matches their own investments.
Education officials hope that the introduction of the electronic textbook scheme can open the door to new players in the market and force traditional publishers to bring down prices.
Parent Raymond Jao Ming said he hoped electronic textbooks would bring changes to the market.
"The issue of textbook prices has been going on for more than 10 years," said Jao. "I have been talking about it and now even my elder daughter has already graduated [from university]."