Quality Education fund is not helping IT development in Hong Kong

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 07 March, 2017, 5:08pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 07 March, 2017, 11:18pm

I am sure we all agree that information technology is vital, but one of the main opportunities to get Hong Kong’s youth interested in IT at school is being squandered.

The Quality Education Fund (QEF) was set up in 1998, and one of its priority areas for funding is to use “e-learning for effective learning”. This would be admirable were it not for the fact that the QEF has neither the processes nor the qualified resources needed to assess IT proposals properly. Not only that, its whole funding philosophy is geared to suffocate rather than support IT development.

In the real world, IT designers usually present their ideas in person. Those assessing them listen to the presenters’ comments about qualitative features and then ask questions. If face-to-face meetings can’t be arranged, designers will often produce mock-ups of early-stage versions.

Other than for very large projects, the only way the QEF will allow you to apply for funding is by submitting a text-based proposal. The QEF’s staff rely exclusively on that text in their assessments and are forbidden from contacting the author to ask questions. But trying to assess an IT project by analysing text is like making a decision to buy a new car by reading its maintenance manual.

The QEF’s funding guidance stipulates that projects must not require ongoing funding; however, the QEF owns the intellectual property from the projects that it funds. These two requirements are incompatible. If a project is successful, then the designers can’t develop it further because they don’t own it, but the QEF won’t develop it further because it won’t fund it.

The QEF should either act as a funding incubator, in which case it should stump up the money, waive intellectual property ownership and let developers take projects forward, or it should commit to the ongoing funding of them – it can’t sit back and do neither. Its whole approach is designed to thwart pedagogic innovations in IT, not develop them.

According to data obtained under the Code on Access to Information, the QEF spends about HK$25 million annually on itself, the equivalent of hiring one additional teacher for every band three school in Hong Kong. Wouldn’t the money be better spent there?

The QEF must be dramatically overhauled or abolished. In its present form, it is a waste of public money and not fit for purpose.

Lee Faulkner, Lamma