Re: The Reading Scheme and Focus Inspection which come all of a sudden
Mr. Kevin Yeung Yun-hung, JP
Secretary for Education
11/F, East Wing,
Central Government Offices,
2 Tim Mei Avenue, Tamar, Hong Kong
29th June, 2020
Dear Mr. Kevin Yeung,
Re: The Reading Scheme and Focus Inspection which come all of a sudden
After nearly four months’ suspension due to the pandemic, schools have begun to resume in stages since late May. Teachers, students and parents face the school resumption with a lot of complex feelings. On the one hand, all are happy to be back to the normal school life. On the other hand, there are worries about how to ensure the safety of students and teachers. Schools have to make arrangements to handle issues related to school resumption such as completing the learning activities by the end of this academic year within a very short time, taking care of students’ emotional needs and adjustments to school life again since they have not been in school for long, etc. When schools are in these straitened circumstances and find it difficult to handle various tasks within a very tight timeline, the Education Bureau (EDB) puts forward two measures, without any consultation or discussion with the Education Sector, which shock schools: (i) Summer Reading Programme – “Gift Book Pilot Scheme (2020)” and (ii) Focus Inspection on the School’s Support Measures for Student Learning and Development during the Class Suspension. The Hong Kong Association of the Heads of Secondary Schools (HKAHSS) urges the EDB to understand the difficulties that schools and frontline teachers are facing and make suitable revisions to the two measures as soon as possible.
Summer Reading Programme – “Gift Book Pilot Scheme (2020)”
The HKAHSS supports that the EDB places importance on reading, and welcomes any kind of funding or policy to promote reading and let students “soar in the sea of books”. However, this Scheme of requiring schools to select and purchase printed books for students from the EDB’s designated book lists on the four themes comes with much perplexity.
- Hasty Implementation
The EDB issued the circular on 18th June, requesting schools to complete the book selection and send invitation for quotations to service providers by 3rd July; to place the order by 9th July; and to have the books delivered to schools by the service providers by late July. Upon receipt of the books, schools are required to distribute the books to each student so that they can read the books during the summer vacation.
Cultivating students’ interest in reading is an everlasting task of schools. We find it difficult to understand the urgency of this measure. Why must the purchase of books and giving each student a copy be done in such an extremely short time? Most students have already started their summer vacation in late July. How can schools arrange to give the books to students to read during the summer vacation? Can one book really make magic to a student’s reading habit? Will students’ benefit be undermined if the implementation of the Scheme is postponed to a more reasonable date?
The “Gift Book Pilot Scheme” comes all of a sudden without a comprehensive planning. Also, there is not enough internal communication among the EDB officers. When different schools enquired different EDB officers about the details of the Scheme, the replies were different and thus causing a lot of confusion. May we ask why the EDB does not plan more thoroughly and have more discussion with the Education Sector before launching this policy?
- Contradictory Procurement Procedures
The procurement procedure in this Scheme is different from the usual school procurement practices for books or other learning and teaching items. There are designated book lists and publishers, but the criteria for selecting the designated book titles are neither open nor transparent. This causes a lot of suspicion from the public, which is detrimental to the implementation of the Scheme, and causing schools a lot of hesitation when inviting service providers for quotations.
The circular issued on 18th June clearly listed the schedule for schools to select and purchase the books, and reminded schools to “observe the established principles and requirements, including the relevant circulars and guidelines (if applicable) on the use of public funds as promulgated by the EDB, to ensure fair and transparent book procurement procedures”. However, the EDB specially approves this “one-off arrangement in the procurement procedures which will not constitute precedents”, allowing schools to shorten the quotation period to one week. In such a short text, the EDB, on the one hand, instructs schools to observe “the established principles and requirements”, and on the other hand, approves this one-off arrangement. How should schools comprehend the contradiction between the two? The established procurement procedures are not followed through. Whose responsibility should it be if schools are being challenged on the procurement procedures later because of this confusion and contradiction?
- Lack of Respect and Understanding
This Scheme involves public funding of $70,000,000. Before its implementation, there was no consultation with the Education Sector. When selecting the book titles, the Education Sector was also not involved and thus the scheme may not be able to meet the needs of schools and students. Only the designated books can be purchased in this Scheme. Besides them, this Grant cannot be used to purchase other printed books, E-books or online reading scheme. There is much diversity in students’ background, ability and interest. Can the 416 designated Chinese books meet every student’s need? Why are there no English books? Why can’t the book titles be selected by teachers who know their students’ needs the best? Why can’t online reading materials help students “soar in the sea of books”? Why can’t the books be part of the collection of school library after students have finished reading them, which can actually enrich the library collection to benefit more students?
Focus Inspection: School’s Support Measures for Student Learning and Development during the Class Suspension
Besides implementing the “Gift Book Pilot Scheme”, the EDB is going to conduct “Focus Inspection” in 90 to 100 schools starting from June to understand how schools support student learning and development during the class suspension period. We find this measure equally problematic.
- Disregard of Schools’ Difficult Situation
During the few months of class suspension, schools have been trying their best to achieve “suspension of class but not suspension of learning” in consideration of their unique school context and student needs. As there is no e-Learning curriculum from the EDB which can be taken as reference, schools need to “make their own steel” and try different ways by themselves, including conducting online live lessons, preparing electronic materials for students to download, conducting assessments using various online platforms and apps, etc. While it is good to gather these invaluable experiences for planning the further development of e-Learning, the timing for doing so is no good. After such a long period of suspension, there are many things which schools need to handle after school resumption. By choosing to conduct Focus Inspection at this time, it seems that the EDB disregards the difficulties faced by schools and does not set the priority right.
- Lack of Guidelines for InspectionFocus Inspection is generally adopted to evaluate how schools plan in view of the specific education policies, and assure the quality of learning and teaching. There are clear guidelines so that schools have “rules to follow” and the inspectors have “ways to go”. However, the Focus Inspection conducted this time may only have the line “suspension of class without suspension of learning” as the guideline. We find it difficult to understand why it should be done through “Focus Inspection”. There are other ways such as Curriculum Development visits, Focus Group Interview and Questionnaires, which can more reasonably help the EDB get a better picture of how the Education Sector supports students during this challenging period. When the EDB does not have any specific policies or success criteria, how can it conduct the Focus Inspection?
- EDB’s Self-examination
The success and effectiveness of e-Learning not only depend on school policy and teachers’ Information Technology (IT) Literacy, but also whether there are adequate e-Learning teaching materials which can match the needs of the local curriculum. Since the 90’s, the EDB started promoting the learning and teaching of IT. However, besides providing extra resources and assisting schools with the hardware and the network, the EDB has not helped to develop any e-Learning platform which supports the local curriculum. While the EDB is conducting the Focus Inspection, will it also re-examine itself to see whether its education policy related to IT can meet the needs of the time? Besides providing financial support to enhance the school network and computer facilities, has the EDB done much for the development of a system for e-Learning and the progressive training for teachers?
The HKAHSS sincerely hopes that the EDB can have better communication with the Education Sector before the formulation and implementation of any policy; that the EDB can have empathy to the needs and challenges of schools and teachers; and that the EDB can see and evaluate more holistically how much it has done to promote the various education policies instead of just checking on what schools have done.
If you have any enquiry, please feel free to contact me by phone or by email.
Wong Wai-yu, Michael
Honorary Executive Secretary
The Hong Kong Association of the Heads of Secondary Schools
教育局 香港添馬添美道 2 號
政府總部東翼 11 樓
因疫情而經歷了近4個月停課，各中學自五月下旬復課，師生及家長均以戰戰兢兢的心情迎接這復課，一方面為重拾正常學校生活而喜悅，一方面為確保師生安全而擔憂，並要在極短時期內為這學年未完的學習生活作出安排，更要關注久未上課學生的適應及情緒問題。就在學校左支右絀，難以消化各項工作之際，教育局在未經與業界商議的情況下，推出兩項令學校譁然的措施：「書出知識 — 贈閱圖書」試行計劃，與及「停課期間學校支援學生學習及發展的『重點視學』」。香港中學校長會促請教育局在瞭解學校前線的困難下，盡快就兩項措施作出修訂。
「書出知識 — 贈閱圖書」試行計劃
教育局於6月18日發出通函，要求學校於 7月3 日前完成「選書」及邀請供應商報價，7 月9日前落單訂購，7月下旬圖書將送交學校。學校在收妥圖書後安排送書給個別學生，讓學生於暑期間閱讀。
培養學生閱讀習慣，是學校細水長流的工作，我們難以理解這措施的急切性，為何一定要在極短時間內採購及送贈一本圖書給學生？大部份學生於 7 月底已放暑假，學校如何安排送書供學生暑假閱讀？一本圖書真的能對學生閱讀習慣起魔術般的作用？將計劃延後至合理時間方推出，對學生又有何影響？
是次計劃動用七千萬元公帑，推行之先，完全沒有諮詢學界，在釐定書目時，亦沒有學界的參與，致令計劃未能切合學校及學生的需要。這項計劃對購買圖書有硬性規定，除指定書目內的圖書，其他實體圖書、電子書、網上閱書計劃，一概不能以此津貼支付。但學生背景、能力、興趣各有差異，指定的 416 本中文書，能否滿足學生的需要？為甚麼沒有英文書？為甚麼圖書不能由最瞭解學生需要的老師去挑選？為甚麼網上閱讀不能讓學生「翱翔書海」？學生閱讀圖書後，為甚麼最終不可收納為圖書館館藏，讓更多同學分享？