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Reasons for Adopting Open Textbooks (OTB) in Hong Kong

Open Textbooks can help to solve the major problems in relation to traditional printed textbooks.

Problem 1: Unaffordable textbook prices

Annual expenses on textbooks place a large financial burden on Hong Kong parents. The following table shows the Consumer Council’s investigation to parents’ average expenditure on textbooks from 2009 to 2013.

The average expenditure on textbooks is a substantial portion of family income. According to the results of 2011 Population Census conducted by the Census and Statistic Department of the HKSAR, the median monthly income of domestic households as of 2011 was $20,500. In other words, Hong Kong families spent 9-10% of their monthly income on textbooks in the academic year 2011/2012. The burden on low-income families was undoubtedly much more onerous.

Worse still, the prices of textbooks have been rising markedly over the past decade. According to the annual textbook price surveys conducted by the Consumer Council between 2003 and 2012, Hong Kong parents have been suffering from rises in textbook prices despite the government and publishers’ efforts in reducing textbook prices. The table below shows the rate of increase of textbook prices from 2003 to 2012.

And in May 2013, the Education Bureau announced a 3.2% overall increase in the textbook prices for the academic year 2013/2014.

In fact, a reduction in textbook prices will be highly impossible due to the following factors:

  • rising textbook production costs due to inflation
  • shrinking textbook markets owing to the ever-dropping birth-rate and student numbers
  • textbook de-bundling policy leading to copyright issues and additional costs
  • curriculum changes leading to compulsory revision and updating of textbooks
  • limited textbook options in the market
Open textbooks as a solution
Open textbooks are affordable alternatives that can help to alleviate Hong Kong parents’ financial burden of buying textbooks. As open textbooks are distributed online for free and can be printed en masse at low costs, they can drastically reduce parents’ spending on textbooks.

Problem 2: Lack of flexibility

By nature, traditional printed textbooks are unable to cater for the specific needs of students and individual schools or classes since they cannot be timely customized for specific learning objectives and contexts without copyright infringement. For teachers who develop their own school-based learning and teaching materials, while they are deprived of the freedom to incorporate materials from different textbooks, their students’ access to knowledge from a variety of materials is also restricted.

Open textbooks as a solution

Open textbooks are flexible alternatives that can help to facilitate pedagogical innovations. No single textbook fits all. Under open licenses, teachers can freely modify open textbooks to fulfill course objectives and cater for students’ needs. Their flexibility can compensate the static nature of traditional printed textbooks.

Problem 3: Weight of traditional textbooks

School children in Hong Kong are often seen carrying school bags with an excessive load of textbooks. In light of this, the government advised that they should avoid carrying school bags which exceed 10% of their body weight, as carrying overweight school bags can cause health problems such as shoulder pain, hunched posture, curved back and spinal injuries. However, there has been little improvement in the situation over the past decades. According to a survey conducted by the Professional Teachers’ Union in 1998, the majority of the school children in Hong Kong are carrying overweight school bags.

  Average weight of
respondents’ school bags
Respondents carrying
overweight school bags (%)
Primary students 5kg 90%
Secondary students 6.4kg 80%

Similar surveys conducted by various political parties since 1998 have yielded matching results.

Open textbooks as a solution

Open textbooks are lighter alternatives that can help to reduce the weight of students’ school bags. A large quantity of texts together with graphics or pictures can be stored on a small electronic device to facilitate mobile learning. For those who prefer the printed version, they can select, print and carry only the needed materials instead of complete textbook volumes. The heavy burden on students’ backs can, therefore, be greatly lightened.