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November 2011

A colonial legacy?

In today’s ESF, Alex Lo provides a reasonable summary of the issues but seems to have missed the point.

No easy options for the ESF dilemma

MY TAKE
Alex Lo
Nov 26, 2011

Negotiations between the government and the English Schools Foundation are going nowhere. The government wants to let go of the ESF, if not now then eventually. The ESF, however, wants to stay with increased public funding.

Either outcome is acceptable. In the first case, ESF institutions would become fully-fledged independent international schools. In the second, they would come under the government's direct subsidy scheme, much like many elite local schools, which enjoy a good deal of autonomy but not full independence.

The ESF will prosper one way or another. Of course, as at international schools, families who cannot afford non-subsidised fees will be forced out, but these places will be filled given the demand for such school places.

What is not tenable, however, is the status quo. ESF schools currently receive public funding well below what is given, on average, to schools under the direct subsidy scheme. This means the ESF has had to raise fees regularly, antagonising parents in the process. Despite the current subsidy, ESF fees are approaching those of some international schools. Without adequate funding, the foundation cannot properly budget for future expansion and development.

But it is difficult for the government to justify increased funding for the ESF - widely regarded as a colonial legacy - if the foundation continues giving admission priority to non-Chinese speaking families. Unfortunately, few local schools have the facilities to accept non-Chinese speaking students, so schools such as the ESF's are essential for the expatriate community.

A rational and humane solution is for more local schools to develop the capability to take foreign students. The ESF could then drop preferential admissions in exchange for higher funding. But this calls for long-term commitment, and the government may instead be tempted to take the easier way out and let the ESF go.

Well, yes, but what is the chance of the government adopting this “rational and humane solution”?  The reason that the ESF was established was because the government wanted another body to run its English schools.   For the next 30 years the ESF received the same funding as government schools, but since the handover this has been steadily reduced and now stands at about half of what it used to be (in real terms).  So any new solution will cost the government more than they spend today on the ESF subvention.

I don’t see why it is “difficult for the government to justify increased funding for the ESF .. if the foundation continues giving admission priority to non-Chinese speaking families”.  Isn’t what it was set up to do?  Ah, but it’s “widely regarded as a colonial legacy”.  There’s the problem. 


Online madness

Interesting article in the Guardian about the high prices for downloading movies. 

Movie fans turn to piracy when the online cupboard is bare

Downloaded movie prices are about 30% to 50% higher than buying an actual DVD. That's if you can find the film online

Ask anyone who's studied copyright policy – scholars of music and literature, economists, sociologists, law professors – and they'll tell you that the No 1 problem with copyright is that it is enacted without recourse to evidence.

Professor Ian Hargreaves, the latest eminent scholar commissioned by government to review Britain's copyright policy, lamented that his advice echoed many of his predecessors', none of which had been heeded.

Policymakers are unabashed about the lack of evidence in copyright policy — the EC's 2011 Single Market for Intellectual Property Rights report declares "The case does not need to be made anymore: IPR in their different forms and shapes are key assets of the EU economy." Of course, "the case does not need to be made" is another way of saying, "the case has not been made".

[..]

The UK Open Rights Group (disclosure: I co-founded this group and serve as a volunteer on its advisory board) recently contributed some more evidence to the debate – and its very timely indeed.

ORG and partner Consumer Focus undertook some empirical research on the state of the lawful market for downloadable movies in the UK. This is important because whenever our government or courts undertake to increase penalties for copyright violations – measures such as our nascent national censorship regime for sites that offend the entertainment industry – it is always with a kind of sad head-shake and the lament that despite the healthy, burgeoning lawful market for downloadable material, stubborn pirates continue to take copyrighted works without permission.

ORG's study Can't look now: finding film online investigated the lawful availability of downloads for "recent bestsellers and catalogues of critically acclaimed films, including the top 50 British films" and what they found was that the claims of the lawful market for movies are as evidence-free as the piracy claims they accompany.

Here's what ORG found: though close to 100% of their sample were available as DVDs, more than half of the top 50 UK films of all time were not available as downloads. The numbers are only slightly better for Bafta winners: just 58% of Bafta best film winners since 1960 can be bought or rented as digital downloads (the bulk of these are through iTunes – take away the iTunes marketplace, which isn't available unless you use Mac or Windows, and only 27% of the Bafta winners can be had legally).

And while recent blockbusters fare better, it's still a patchwork, requiring the public to open accounts with several services to access the whole catalogue (which still has many important omissions).

But even in those marketplaces, movies are a bad deal – movie prices are about 30% to 50% higher when downloaded over the internet versus buying the same movies on DVDs. Some entertainment industry insiders argue that DVDs, boxes and so forth add negligible expense to their bottom line, but it's hard to see how movie could cost less on physical DVDs than as ethereal bits, unless the explanation is price-gouging. To add insult to injury, the high-priced online versions are often sold at lower resolutions than the same movies on cheap DVDs.

I have previously complained about the absurd prices of many books on the Kindle and the price of music downloads, but apparently it costs Apple a lot of money to store the file online and deliver it to me.  Perhaps the same explanation applies here - though I am still not totally convinced…


ESF vs EDB round 27

The negotiations over the future of the ESF continue, but there seems to be some progress: 

Deadlock over future ESF subsidies

Rather than losing government funds, foundation wants amounts matching Direct Subsidy Scheme

Dennis Chong
Nov 23, 2011

Negotiations between the English Schools Foundation and the government over whether ESF schools should continue to receive government funding are deadlocked, with the clock ticking on an earlier goal of finalising reform details by the end of this year.

The government is considering whether funding should cease in the long term, while the ESF wants an increase to a level equal to the subsidies received by Direct Subsidy Scheme schools in the government system. The government has yet to set out conditions for the funding to stay and the two sides have yet to reach agreement on how schools should be better regulated if it does remain, ESF officials say. The uncertainty may hamper drafting of a plan for development of the foundation's schools for the next three years.

"We will continue our discussions with [the Education Bureau] and negotiate for a sustainable and recurrent subvention," ESF chief executive Heather Du Quesnay, who has strongly objected to removal of the subsidies, said yesterday.  Du Quesnay said that instead of accepting the loss of the government money, the school operator was demanding an increase to a level on a par with schools under the Direct Subsidy Scheme - now about double the amount received by the ESF.

She said the foundation was willing to accept more monitoring and supervision if its own control over curriculum and the pay, recruitment and professional development of staff could be maintained. In this academic year, DSS schools receive HK$35,200 for each primary pupil and HK$43,890 for each secondary pupil. The ESF got HK$17,757 and HK$23,659 respectively, an ESF spokeswoman said.

In a letter received by parents this week, Du Quesnay wrote that the board had been at pains to put forward its case to retain and increase the subsidy.

Earlier this year, the government proposed reviewing the future of ESF schools, raising the possibility that the foundation should ultimately become self-financing. This poses questions on how the city will be able to maintain adequate opportunities for non-Chinese-speaking pupils, who now go to ESF schools, to receive a quality education.

The authorities also proposed in July that under planned reform, ESF schools would have to sign time-definite service agreements with the government in order to improve accountability. The government said this should take place in the next academic year.

Du Quesnay said yesterday that the ESF was willing to sign service agreements setting out programmes of activities and financial monitoring arrangements. The Education Bureau declined to comment.

I have never fully understood why the ESF couldn’t be part of the DSS scheme.  It seems like the obvious answer to the problem, but it would require some changes to the DSS scheme given that the ESF gives priority to students who are not Cantonese speakers.  Given that the whole point of the ESF is to fill that gap in the local school system, you’d think that the government would be able to do that.


Letter of the week

They must be desperate at the SCMP to publish letters like this. 

Serious implications for schools

Alex Lo demonstrates an inability to handle the intrusion into management of religious schools ("God-awful fears freeze school reform", November 8).

Without a firm foundation, he assumes the high ground in the conflict between religious schools and their forced compliance with a dramatic shift in the structure of their governing bodies.

Lo proposes that religious schools would despair of teaching Darwin as if Darwin's theories have no flaws. Lo suggests that Mao Zedong is not taught in these schools, a dictator who was responsible for millions of deaths.

I think we’re starting to get an idea where you’re coming from…

At the very least, there will be more conflict on religious school governing boards, with clashes over values and principles.

Will we see some non-Christian members wanting to see a very liberal view of sex education put on the curriculum? Other new board members might wish to have abortion taught as a value. Some could debate that the Ten Commandments or similar basic texts are a waste of time.

Abortion taught as a value?  Really?  Is that common in non-faith schools?

I am sorry that people want to water down religious schools and say this is fair, for this introduces a skewed value system.

A what?

Everyone chooses some god or belief, but forcing people who have adopted one standard to bow down to any system at all is discriminatory. Evidently this has been lost on many people.

Rosa Chan, Lai Chi Kok

Continue reading "Letter of the week" »


Don’t drink the water

Dilbert – 27 October 2011

Dilbert.com

Today’s news

Japan MP Yasuhiro Sonoda drinks Fukushima water

A Japanese official has drunk water collected from the quake-hit Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant, after reporters challenged him to prove it was safe.

Yasuhiro Sonoda appeared nervous and his hands shook as he downed a glass during a televised news conference.

The water he drank was taken from puddles under two reactor buildings. It is decontaminated before being used for tasks such as watering plants.

Journalists have repeatedly queried the safety of the procedure.

Mr Sonoda, who serves as the cabinet office's parliamentary spokesman, told the news conference: "Just drinking [decontaminated water] doesn't mean safety has been confirmed. Presenting data to the public is the best way."