THE Education Department has taken the unprecedented step of asking nine publishers to sign a guarantee they will print textbooks for a new curriculum to be introduced next year. The publishers, who submitted samples of some of the learning material they had in mind to the department in September, said the move was a bad precedent and had no reasonable grounds. But they still signed the agreement on Tuesday after rewriting the draft. The department's draft was a confirmation that publishers would print learning material for the implementation of the Target Oriented Curriculum next September. The publishers rewrote the draft as an indication of their intent to print the material if there were no unpredicted circumstances. The agreement carried no contractual obligation and was for record purposes only. The new curriculum - to begin in 70 schools at Primary One in the three core subjects of Chinese, English and Mathematics - aims to make learning more lively and effective. It is scheduled to be implemented in all primary classes by 2000. The president of the Hong Kong Educational Publishing Association, Rodney Chui Fong-ching, said: 'The request is not a good precedent. Whether publishers will publish a textbook is their own decision. We have never been asked to make such a guarantee before.' Two major publishers have backed out of printing textbooks for a new subject, general studies, because of too many uncertainties as to what it might contain and possible conflict with China. However, Mr Chui said the publishers signed the agreement 'in good faith' and to express support for the new curriculum. One of the publishers which signed the document said they would have a moral obligation to print the learning material. However, Mr Chui said they would seek clarification as to whether schools would implement the curriculum according to schedule. Secretary of Education and Manpower, Michael Leung Man-kin, said on Wednesday the new curriculum would not be compulsory. Mr Chui said commercial considerations remained the first priority and they might back out if the Government gave the schools the option to decide whether to implement the new curriculum. The convenor of the Democratic Party's education panel, Ip Kin-yuen, said the Government should state clearly whether the curriculum would become the only primary curriculum. A department spokesman said the signing of the document was 'a mutual agreement' to show both sides' sincerity in implementing the curriculum. It was not meant to be an infringement of publishers' freedom to make decisions. The department had been giving extra assistance and guidance to publishers in preparing the learning materials. It had been saying the new curriculum would not be compulsory, but that schools should follow the implementation schedule in principle.