English curbs shelved after schools revolt

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 20 December, 1994, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 20 December, 1994, 12:00am

A CONTROVERSIAL plan to start teaching English formally only from Primary Four has been shelved in the wake of parents' and schools' opposition.

The Education Commission yesterday also deferred a conclusion on another controversial plan to publish reports on how far each school's language policy matched pupils' ability.

Legislator Tik Chi-yuen criticised the commission for evading problems, saying that as the highest education advisory body, it should be 'brave enough to suggest what it thinks right for the students'.

The two recommendations were among 28 listed in the commission's language proficiency working group report published in July for consultation. They were to form the basis of the Education Commission Report No 6.

On bilingual development, it was recommended the focus should be on mother-tongue skills in Primary One to Three while English should be taught formally only from Primary Four.

Some schools could try out the suggestion if it was formally laid down as a report proposal.

Although a poll indicated some parental support for the idea, many parents were worried it might affect their children's English ability, considered crucial in Hong Kong. As a result, schools were reluctant to accept the proposal.

Yesterday, commission chairman Professor Rosie Young Tse-tse said: 'Because the community has a split view on the recommendation, further discussion is needed.' The commission has designated a new Standing Committee on Language Education and Research to explore possible ways of improving language learning.

Professor Young said: 'The suggestion to start teaching formal English in Primary Four will still remain as an option. The committee's study will provide more support. Schools will not buy the option now.

'It will be a big policy change. If you want people to buy your policy, you need a more in-depth study.' Chairman of the working group, Angela Cheung Wong Wan-yiu, said: 'Language reform is a very difficult task and it takes time. Society's opposition is a main concern.' However, the commission will set out clearly in its sixth report that there should be ways of helping every child who leaves primary school to be proficient in at least one language - Chinese for most students - so that they can pursue secondary studies with little or no difficulty.

The report will also state the need to ensure a better match between the time and effort students spend on language learning and the outcome in terms of language proficiency.

A decision on a plan to publish the outcome of the 1994 secondary school place allocation and medium of instruction grouping assessment exercise in form of a school-by-school list was deferred until the Education Department had completed a consultation among schools next month.

Publication of the outcome can show how far schools have taken into account the language profile of pupils in deciding its teaching medium.

The commission has also decided to leave the suggestion for a new language research centre for the new committee to study.

It is suggested the committee comprise commission members, academics, teachers, principals, education institute representatives, and lay members.

A revision was made to a recommendation that each school should have a language co-ordinator because some schools had found difficulty in attracting the right candidate.

Mrs Cheung said they would suggest schools with the ability to identify suitable appointee should do so, while the Education Department should provide support.

Another revised recommendation is that continuous advice should be provided to encourage teachers in all subject areas to improve their language skills.

Most other recommendations, including minimum language standards for those completing an initial teacher training course, remain unchanged.

The report will have another month for public consultation.