The DAB Family Affairs Committee (“the Committee”) has always been concerned with education policy. On 25th October, the Committee alongside DAB Vice Secretaries Vincent Cheng and Hung Kam-In met with the Under Secretary for Education Dr. Choi Yuk-Lin. We discussed issues such as ways to cut down on the weight of school bags, promoting digital education and easing some of the homework burden on students.
Since 2006 the DAB has held investigations into the weight of school backpacks, and this year 969 students took part. The Department of Health stipulates that school bags should not exceed 10% of a child’s body weight, but our investigation discovered that around 83% of students had overweight school backpacks, with the average weight coming to 4.9 kg. Some backpacks were even heavier, at 5 or 6 kg. Looking at the standards set by the Department of Health, the percentage by which an average school backpack is overweight has risen from 13.9% to 63.3% over the past decade and setting new records. We understand that the government has encouraged schools to reduce the weight of school bags, for example proposing schools to provide lockers to keep books and for teachers to schedule classes on the same subject together and adjust the methods that homework can be handed in by students and so on. However, this survey shows that the situation with overweight school bags has worsened, and bearing overweight backpacks day in and day out has adverse effects on the growth of children. Therefore, we propose that:
(1) The Education Bureau should sponsor the purchase of “shared textbooks” by schools. Purchase textbooks on certain subjects in bulk and save them to use in class time only, therefore cutting down on the number of textbooks students need to lug to and from school.
(2) Desks in school should have lockers in order to encourage students to leave textbooks unneeded for that day’s homework at school.
(3) Publishers should publish basic and practical textbooks
Digital textbooks are another way to cut down on the weight of school bags. The committee held a questionnaire survey with principals of elementary and secondary schools recently and many principals felt that promoting digital education was extremely or very important. Actually, the government has somewhat promoted digital education through the “First” to the “Fourth Strategies on IT in Education”, but it has been over a decade and the government has not comprehensively promoted it. We feel that the government should provide enough support and facilities to promote digital education for these initiatives to be successful and make digital education an integral part of the educational landscape. It will also cut down on the reservations that parents, students and schools have towards digital education. Therefore, we propose that:
(1) When using digital textbooks, schools should help to protect eyesight through methods such as teaching eye exercises and the correct way to use digital devices. This will cut down on potential eye problems caused by the use of digital textbooks.
(2) Increase the resources and consider normalizing the quota of IT technicians. Let them have support in digital and IT education. At the same time, support more educational organizations, universities and NGOs to write the curriculum and textbooks, provide teachers with more varied IT teaching materials. Provide courses and seminars for educators so that teachers are better able to teach with IT.
(3) Provide an extra allowance for schools to buy the necessary equipment and facilities.
On top of all this, the committee has received the views of parents who point out the excessive amount of difficult homework on a daily basis, meaning that students have to work on them far into the night and lack the time to play or rest. This certainly has an adverse effect on their psychological and physical health. We understand there is so much competition in society and that in order to train the children, some schools feel they have to assign large amounts of homework to their students and make them lose time for play or even sleep. Actually, young children should be able to learn in a fun and smooth manner. Allow them to have more time to rest and play, and to be able to learn and grow up in a non-pressure environment.
According to what we understand, the government has sent out the “Guidelines on Homework and Tests in Schools – No Drilling, Effective Learning” and have schools set a period of time where students could finish part of their homework under the teacher’s guidance. We feel that this proposal has excellent intentions but some questions remain on the effectiveness of this proposal and how to enforce such guidelines. Therefore, we propose that:
(1) Establish and implement long term and effective strategies and measures (including re-instating an upper limit for homework each day and concrete proposals on the kinds, quantity of and time spent on homework).
(2) Provide professional advice and support to schools. Help schools to set up a mechanism to assign a suitable amount of homework as well as a reasonable evaluation policy.
(3) Increase the numbers of inspectors to monitor schools and to gain a deep understanding of the homework situation in each school. Then propose targeted methods to solve the specific problems of schools and help to reduce the pressure that schoolchildren face when it comes to a heavy homework load.
The Education Bureau was willing to hear our advice, and promised that they will continue to encourage schools to spin off textbooks and coursework and to use more printed worksheets, etc. In the future the Education Bureau will hold joint research on “shared textbooks” with the Environment Bureau. As regards digital textbooks, the Education Bureau agrees on teaching a diverse curriculum. In time the Bureau will cooperate with universities to hold research on how to design and implement digital textbooks, and also strengthen parental education so as to cut down on the stress levels that students face.
The Under Secretary for Education Dr. Choi Yuk-Lin expressed that she was very concerned about the problems addressed, and that she will continue to pay close attention on monitoring the situation closely. She will continue to have an open attitude in communicating with stakeholders, listen to different opinions and advice, and help students cut down on unnecessary stress.
Media Inquiries: DAB Family Affairs Committee Chairperson Jacqueline Chung (5109 8058)