Like big cities all over the world, Hong Kong has its share of cafes, including dozens of outlets of Starbucks and many rival coffee chains. Yet Hong Kong also boasts a unique initiative: the Longman Café, so teachers can learn about Pearson's latest textbooks over a cup of coffee or tea.
The Longman Cafes - events held at coffee shops, restaurants and hotel lobbies - were launched last year in order to provide informal settings to introduce teachers to new textbooks being developed by Pearson. These include books designed to meet the territory's sweeping overhaul of its secondary-school structure, and books such as Primary Longman Elect aimed at improving performance in primary schools.
A typical Longman Cafe; in Hong Kong, held in the Lobby Lounge of the Gold Coast Hotel
"I started getting to know the design rationale and benefits of Primary Longman Elect in the Longman Café session, which helped my understanding of this new course-book series," says Wendy Chu, a teacher at Canossa Primary School, who participated in a Longman Café in January at the coffee shop of the Royal Plaza Hotel.
Teacher Wendy Chu of Canossa Primary School
"I found Longman Café a great environment for me to share ideas and experience with other school teachers," says Ms. Chu, who joined seven other teachers from four different primary schools over an afternoon tea of coffee and cake. "Its relaxing atmosphere was enjoyable, and that encouraged an exchange of opinions. To me, Longman is a teacher's partner, which provides continuous support to educators and learners."
Canossa Primary later decided to adopt Primary Longman Elect for the 2009-2010 academic year, so nearly 900 students at the school will be using the book in six different levels of instruction, with four classes of about 37 students in each level. The new Longman Primary Elect series was developed by Pearson in order to address teacher concerns about a decline in English language proficiency among primary school students, as measured by the Territory-wide System Assessment.
The cover of a Longman Primary Elect title
"Our approach is that we are not only a partner to the schools, but we can provide solutions to schools," says Yvonne Lee, Pearson marketing manager in Hong Kong.
The Longman Cafes have proved very successful settings in which to outline those solutions. So far, about 70 Longman Cafes have been held since last year, attracting more than 450 teachers.
At the secondary-school level, the Longman Cafes have been invaluable tools to introduce teachers to new books and other course material being developed by Pearson for Hong Kong's senior secondary-school overhaul, known as the "3+3+4" or "NSS" (New Senior Secondary) system.
Beginning with the next school year in September 2009, Hong Kong students age 16 (after completing their three-year Junior Secondary education) will study a three-year New Senior Secondary course, followed by four years of higher education.
This new "3+3+4" system replaces a "3+2+2+3" system of three years junior secondary, two years senior secondary, two years matriculation and three years of higher education, and brings Hong Kong in line with the structure in mainland China and many other parts of the world. Many students who attend Hong Kong's 450 schools choose to go to university in the U.S. and elsewhere.
"Because of this change, the whole secondary curriculum needed to be redone," says Isa Wong, president of Pearson Hong Kong. "This is a really big reform, so it has really big implications for publishers." Pearson is developing 11 new series for the new "3+3+4" curriculum.
Under the Hong Kong education system, the ministry of education must approve all textbooks developed by a publisher, but then the decision on which books to actually adopt are made on a school-by-school basis - so the Longman Cafes have been important events at which to introduce teachers to the brand new material.
Joanna Or, an English teacher at Lui Ming Choi Lutheran College, attended a Longman Café in January along with seven other teachers from five different schools. They were introduced to the new Longman Activate NSS series for English Language Teaching (ELT).
Joanna Or, an English teacher at Lui Ming Choi Lutheran College
"Since the Longman Café was kept at a small size, this encouraged interactions among participants," she says.
Following the Café, Ms. Or attended a Longman Activate NSS product launch seminar in March, and a customised presentation was then made at her school in early April, which was attended by 15 teachers.
The school was convinced: It decided to adopt the Longman Activate NSS series for the academic year beginning in September, beginning with Secondary Level 4 students the first year and continuing in subsequent years through Level 5 to Level 6. There are about 180 students in each level.
"I participated in Longman Café because I was eager to see whether Longman can really help my students," says Ms. Or. "Thanks to Longman's high-quality NSS ELT materials, my colleagues and I finally chose Longman as our NSS partner.
The cover of the new Longman Activate New Senior Secondary Theme Book
"It is great to have a chance to directly communicate with Longman's editorial team," she says. "This kind of interaction and cooperation can develop mutual understanding between teachers and publishers, and enhance my confidence in Longman's materials. In the end, students can benefit from this."