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Increase in Average Expenditure on Primary and Secondary School Textbooks Far Exceeded Inflation Rate Reduced Discounts Add Further Burden

  • 2021.09.15

As the new school year begins, the costs of children’s textbooks and learning materials is another key expenditure of many families. The Consumer Council published the findings of its 2021/22 primary and secondary school textbook expenditure survey, revealing that, as compared with the previous school year, the average expenditure on primary and secondary school textbooks rose by 5.3% and 3.6% respectively. The recorded rise was also significantly higher than the (0.4%) inflation rate in the same period. The survey showed that the expenditure was subject to many key factors, e.g. the elective subjects chosen by the students, the number of textbooks and supplementary exercise books, the reduction in discounts from publishers as well as the change in learning materials for the new school year. The Council recommends that primary and secondary schools reuse and recycle learning materials, which can help promote environmental protection and reduce students’ expenditure on textbooks.

With the assistance of the Education Bureau (EDB), the Council randomly selected 87 primary schools and 76 secondary schools in Hong Kong and issued invitation letters to collect their textbook lists for both the new school year and last year and other relevant information, including the costs of compulsory textbooks, supplementary exercise books and school-based materials. After deducting all discounts, the figures were then analysed and computed to show the textbook expenditure of each grade and their changes in the two school years. As of end of August, the Council received relevant information from a total of 57 primary schools and 50 secondary schools, with a response rate of 65.6%.

Rise of Expenditure on Both Primary and Secondary School Textbooks Higher than That of Last Year

        Among the primary schools surveyed, the average expenditure on textbooks was $3,083 in the new school year, which was a sharp 5.3% rise year-on-year (YoY) compared with the 2.8% YoY rise last year. The textbook expenditure of each grade ranged from $2,879 to $3,223, with the YoY rise between 4.9% and 5.5%. The average expenditure of senior primary ($3,181) was slightly higher than that of junior primary ($2,984) in the new school year.

        The average expenditure on secondary school textbooks was $2,887 in the new school year, recording a YoY rise of 3.6% which was higher than the rise last year (1.9%). In terms of academic stages, the average expenditure on junior secondary textbooks was $3,340 in the new school year, up 4% YoY. As for senior secondary, direct comparison could not be drawn between the two school years because the EDB had replaced Secondary 4 Liberal Studies with Citizenship and Social Development, hence the textbooks that students purchased for the new school year were different from last year. Excluding the data on Secondary 4 Citizenship and Social Development (new school year) and Liberal Studies (last year), the average expenditure on senior secondary school textbooks was $2,433, 3% higher than last year.

Supplementary Exercise Books Accounted for at least Half of the English, Chinese, Mathematics and General Studies Titles in Primary Schools

        The amount of learning materials is one of the key factors in determining the expenditure on textbooks. For Primary students, Chinese, English, Mathematics and General Studies accounted for 9 to 10 titles on average. Each subject required 5 to 6 supplementary exercise books on average, accounting for at least half of the total number of titles. Of these 4 subjects, the rise in price of the more popular primary school supplementary exercise books ranged from 3.4% (General Studies) to 6% (Mathematics), which was believed to be one of the reasons primary school textbook expenditure recorded a significant rise in the new school year. As for secondary schools, junior secondary required relatively more English titles. The average number of English titles was 5 which accounted for over 20% of the total expenditure on textbooks. Chinese and Mathematics each required 3 titles on average, accounting for about 15% of the total expenditure respectively. The 4 senior secondary core subjects required 2 to 3 books on average. English accounted for the largest portion of the total expenditure and cost a total of $1,358 for Secondary 4-6, accounting for approximately 20% of the total expenditure. 

Discounts offered by Publishers Decreased by Year

        It should be noted that publishers offered noticeably smaller discounts to primary and secondary schools this year. 39 primary schools (72%) received a bigger 11% to 14% discount, which was 6% fewer in numbers than that of last year. 70% of secondary schools (33 schools) received a 10% to 11% discount, which was 4% fewer than that of last year.

Some Schools Provide School-based Materials for Free

        Out of the 57 primary schools surveyed, almost 90% (51 schools) developed their own learning materials that were mainly used in complementing teaching and learning. For most primary schools, the costs of producing school-based materials ranged from less than $100 to a few hundred dollars, normally not exceeding $330. Only 35% of these primary schools offered students school-based materials for free. All 50 secondary schools surveyed developed their own materials and over 40% offered these materials to their students for free. The rest charged students not more than $300 for printing.

Recycling of Learning Materials Recommended;
Protecting the Environment and Easing Students’ Burden

        Local students spend a considerable amount of money on textbooks every year. The Council recommends that all primary and secondary schools employ measures that facilitate the recycling of textbooks and promote environmental protection. These measures include purchasing supplementary resources for students to borrow, buying storybooks for students for circulation among themselves, and hosting second-hand book donations or sales to allow students to obtain textbooks and learning materials at lower prices. Besides, in order to reduce the overall expenditure on textbooks, the Council recommends that schools can help students who opt to use mainly second-hand books to get discounts on buying individual learning materials.

Learning Materials Moving Towards Digitalisation;
The Council Will Monitor Market Trends Closely

        In recent years, online learning has become the new normal for teaching and learning. In terms of its impact on students and on teaching and learning, according to the replies from 24 primary schools and 20 secondary schools, over 75% of schools stated that their students’ expenditure on learning materials was not affected by online learning. However, most of the schools’ respondents believed that, in the long run, the selection of teaching and learning materials might undergo changes. For example, over 40% of schools would consider selecting more printed textbooks that were bundled with online teaching and learning resources or developing their own online materials. Almost 20% stated that they would increase the use of e-textbooks. The Council will closely monitor the impact of e-learning materials on the expenditure of students in purchasing these materials.

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