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Stabilising textbook prices and sharing high-quality curriculum resources during difficult times

Mr Kevin Yeung
Secretary for Education

     Hong Kong is still under the impact of the COVID-19 epidemic and we cannot relax our vigilance. During the period of class suspension, in addition to helping students study at home in accordance with the principle of “suspending classes without suspending learning”, schools have also begun to prepare for the resumption of classes and the next school year, and the compilation of book lists is one of the important tasks. The Education Bureau (EDB) understands that the income of many families has been affected by the severe impact of the epidemic on the economy. Therefore, we have contacted various publishers earlier on to urge them to freeze textbook prices. Response from the industry was supportive. Today, we have confirmed that average textbook prices for the next school year will remain roughly unchanged.

 

Government’s call for price freeze met with positive response from publishers

 

     The prices of textbooks are market-driven. There is no need to seek approval from the EDB. Publishers generally adjust book prices with reference to operating costs. In order to reduce the burden on parents as much as possible, the EDB has implemented measures to stabilise textbook prices over the years, including the strict regulation on textbook revisions, the debundling of pricing for textbooks and teaching/learning materials, and requesting publishers to use appropriate low-cost printing methods to reduce production costs. A safety net has also been set up to provide subsidies to students in need.

 

      With the efforts of the EDB and the industry, the average increase in book prices in recent years has been comparable to the inflation rate over the same period. The average “Composite Consumer Price Index”, after netting out the effects of all Government’s one-off relief measures, has risen 3% over the past 12 months. However, the epidemic has hit the economy in recent months, and the unemployment and underemployment rates have soared, affecting many families’ income. The EDB deems it necessary to do everything possible to avoid an increase in textbook prices.

 

     For this reason, the EDB took the initiative to contact the publishers calling for a freeze on the prices of textbooks. Although the running of publishing houses has also been affected by the epidemic, after consultations, we are pleased to learn that the call has received positive response. While more than 90% of the publishing houses would freeze the prices of all their textbooks, some publishing houses would freeze the prices of selected textbooks. In other words, the prices of textbooks for the next school year will remain roughly unchanged, and the overall prices will only rise slightly by 0.1% over this school year, which is the lowest increase rate in the past decade. Even though the prices of a small number of textbooks need to be adjusted for various reasons, the increase is close to the inflation rate. Moreover, a total of 4,600 textbooks are on the Recommended Textbook List, providing schools with many choices of high-quality textbooks.

 

We thank the publishers for fulfilling their corporate social responsibilities, doing their best to freeze textbook prices, and riding through the difficult times together with parents and students. The EDB is collating information and expects to release the prices of textbooks for the next school year on the “Recommended Textbook List” webpage (www.edb.gov.hk/rtl) tomorrow (April 29) for schools’ reference when compiling the textbook list for the next school year.

 

Fighting the epidemic and coping with economic difficulties together

 

       As the epidemic persists, Hong Kong’s economy has been hit hard. The government has introduced a number of relief measures in the Budget and two rounds of the Anti-epidemic Fund. It is hoped that the total commitment of $287.5 billion will support different industries and sectors as well as families from all walks of life as far as possible.

 

      In order to assist students in financial need to pay for textbooks, the government has been implementing the “School Textbook Assistance Scheme” and the “Comprehensive Social Security Assistance Scheme”. Starting from the 2019/20 school year, a student grant of $2,500 will be provided for each primary, secondary and kindergarten student. In view of the epidemic situation, the amount of the grant per student has been increased by $1,000 to $3,500. We believe it can further alleviate parents’ financial burden of education expenses.

 

Diversified curriculum resources in addition to textbooks

 

      Learning and teaching resources come in different varieties and sources and textbooks are not the only learning and teaching resources. Schools would formulate the school-based criteria for selection of learning and teaching materials and set up a review mechanism to ensure that the resource materials of different subjects are in line with the aims and objectives of the central curriculum, and the contents and information are correct, complete and objective. Through effective teaching strategies, teachers enable students to acquire relevant knowledge and skills, help nurture positives values and promote critical thinking and whole-person development.

 

      The EDB continues to develop diversified learning and teaching resources for teachers’ reference. For example, we recently produced a series of online curriculum resources related to COVID-19 (www.edb.gov.hk/tc/curriculum-development/resource-support/learning-teaching-resource-list/index.html), covering different subjects, including teaching materials, worksheets, and multimedia resources such as audio storybooks. It supports teachers to teach knowledge related to epidemic prevention and enhance learning effectiveness by developing students’ positive values ​​and information literacy and promoting self-directed learning.

 

Suspending classes without suspending learning while class resumption depends on the epidemic situation

 

        I sincerely thank principals and teachers for flexibly adopting different modes, such as online teaching, to make arrangements for student learning during the period of class suspension, and to achieve “suspending classes without suspending learning”.

  The EDB has all along maintained communication with schools to jointly counter the epidemic. The current supply of epidemic prevention materials, including masks, is relatively abundant compared with a month ago, and school preparation work is also in good progress. The resumption of classes hinges on the development of the epidemic. The EDB will continue to closely follow up on the epidemic and take into account the professional advice from health experts, and formulate and announce a class resumption plan in due course. It is hoped that students can return to school by stages under safe conditions.

 

28 April 2020