SCMP Saturday, September 15, 2001

Government considers textbook loan scheme


Students could be able to borrow textbooks from schools instead of buying them under a proposal by the Consumer Council.
The council has said the Government should subsidise schools to buy textbooks to loan to students instead of providing funds to needy students to buy their own.
The council has recommended that a pilot scheme be launched among selected schools.
Under the scheme, unveiled this week and welcomed by the Education Department, students could borrow books for the school year, while those who wished to buy their own books could still do so. Schools would keep the stock for three or four years.
Similar schemes have been operating in countries such as Britain, the United States, Canada and Australia for almost 20 years.
But some fear such a move would increase teachers' workload, while publishers say that it would disrupt the market.
Li Kai-ming, deputy chief executive of the council, said the scheme should be introduced in all primary and secondary schools.
The textbook industry has been criticised for raising prices by nearly five per cent over the past few years, despite deflation.
The council's report found that the top four publishing houses have 75 per cent of market share in the primary school textbook market.
Rosalind Chan Lo-sai, chairwoman of the Grant Schools Council, rejected the loan-book scheme saying it would create extra work for teachers. It was also impractical because students liked to make notes in their books, she said.
Chui Fong-chin, convenor of Educational Publishers Joint Conference, said the proposal would affect the market. Shek Hon-kei, head of the Hon Wing Book Company, warned that the move could reduce the size of the market and force prices to increase further.
But Cheung Man-kwong, the legislator representing the education sector, said the proposal could go to easing the financial burden on parents.
The Education Department acknowledged that the proposal was "interesting" and merited consideration. "It could relieve the financial burden on some parents but the administrative workload involved should be taken into account," a department spokesman said.
He appealed to schools to complement textbooks with other resources such as the Internet and school-based learning materials designed by teachers, adding that overuse of materials such as workbooks was discouraged.
"We also call on schools, where appropriate, to mark reference materials such as dictionaries and atlases with 'for reference only' on the booklists, so that parents can choose whether to buy them.
"Copies of these reference materials should be provided in classrooms or libraries," he said.
About 349,900 pupils - 40 per cent of the school-age population - obtained government grants worth $341 million in the last school year to buy textbooks.