PUBLISHED : Thursday, 09 August, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 15 August, 2012, 11:15pm


No substitute for native speakers

I refer to Tricia Cheong's letter ('View that native English-speaking teachers are better is very misguided', July 31), which was in reply to my letter ('Parents should beware of fraudulent tutorial centres that do not help children', July 24).

The purpose of my letter was to wake people up to the fact that tutorial centres and many kindergartens are, in essence, of low quality, both in terms of the teachers they employ and the courses they offer.

Ms Cheong's letter only addresses the issue of teachers, so I shall do the same.

Firstly, I stick to my point that there is no substitute for a native educated English teacher, and let me explain why.

When it comes to teaching, for example, grammar, essay comprehension, writing skills, I agree with Ms Cheong that one only needs to be educated in English to teach these.

However, there is one area of learning English in which, in my opinion, this is not the case. That is the area of English conversation.

Unless one is a native English speaker, one cannot possibly expect to know current and common expressions and phrases.

In other words, not only must one be educated, but one must know the way native English-speaking people talk to each other.

This becomes apparent for many students in Hong Kong when they do actually visit countries such as Ireland, Britain, South Africa, Australia and the United States, and they find themselves unable to understand and keep up with conversations with locals.

The English they learn here is not conversational English, and the reason this is so is because students here are usually taught by locals (who have never lived in English-speaking countries) or by non-native English-speaking teachers (usually from eastern Europe).

Ms Cheong gives the example of Kevin Rudd, and writes that he 'speaks better Putonghua than half of my peers'.

Mr Rudd began studying Putonghua in Australia, but he moved to Taiwan to finish his studies at the National Taiwan Normal University in Taipei.

His teachers were native-educated Putonghua speakers, and it is for this reason that his Putonghua is perfect.

Learning how people actually talk to each other in English-speaking countries is of vital importance if one wants to think of oneself as being able to speak English, and unless one moves to and lives in English-speaking countries for a number of years, there is no substitute for an educated native English teacher.

Dermot Cooper, Happy Valley

Government does not care about helpers

Thank you, Doris Lee, for writing what needs to be said about conditions for the foreign domestic workers in Hong Kong ('Allowing domestics to live away from workplace would be better for everyone', July 30).

But judging by similar calls for this change over the years, it is clear that the onerous conditions of these women will never change because the government has never considered the matter of much importance.

Renata Lopez, Wan Chai

Must solve cage home problem

When I came to Hong Kong in the mid-1950s, the population was around 2? million.

A decade later, in the mid-1960s, with the massive influx of immigrants from the mainland, it had increased by one million.

In those early decades, we reckoned something like 10 per cent of our population lived in squatter huts.

However, starting immediately after the squatter area fire in Shek Kip Mei, on December 25, 1953, the colonial government did a splendid job with resettlement and the squatter problem was eventually brought under control.

Today, Hong Kong has larger reserves than ever before and resettling relatively small numbers of cage dwellers and their like - small, that is, in comparison to numbers resettled in earlier years - should not be difficult.

Not difficult, that is, if, as P. Lee says, our newly elected chief executive, Leung Chun-ying, and his administration are given a fair crack of the whip ('Hong Kong needs a loyal opposition', July, 29).

While we need checks and balances, we do not need the opposition constantly objecting as it is wont to do.

That is why proposals take so long and there is a limit regarding what gets done.

Dan Waters, Mid-Levels

Children can form their own opinions

The introduction of national education in Hong Kong's schools shortly after Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying has come into office has proved to be controversial and it has met with opposition from different groups.

Many critics have said the introduction of this subject is politically motivated and that it is designed to brainwash Hong Kong's next generation.

When it comes to brain-washing in China, we can look back at Chinese Communist Party leader Mao Zedong and the tactics of his Red Guards.

There was then a complete turnaround when Deng Xiaoping came to power by enforcing a form of socialism which was more or less along the lines of Western capitalism and opening the nation to the world economy.

Under the current 'one country, two systems', Hong Kong has had a great deal of economic success thanks mostly to help from or co-operation with the motherland.

Now, 15 years after the inauguration of the Hong Kong SAR, the region and its people have been imbued with Western ideas of freedom and democracy.

As a result, our young people in Hong Kong are capable of thinking for themselves about politics, economics, culture, education and social behaviour.

Therefore, I think it is highly unlikely that our children would be easily influenced by what they are taught in national education or even be brainwashed.

Peter Wei, Kwun Tong

Not suitable for primary schools

As a student under the new senior secondary curriculum, and after 14 years in the school system, I believe it is possible for some pupils to be brainwashed.

Johnny Tam, in his letter ('Liberal studies is best forum', August 1), says he has 'enough faith in the young generation of Hong Kong to believe that any attempt at brainwashing would be unsuccessful'. I think this may be over-optimistic.

In my view, once national education becomes a compulsory subject, pupils will want to do well in the classroom and may absorb all material they are taught, in a rote-learning style.

Those students who reject this approach and take a moral stand, expressing their honest views, will probably be in the minority. Also, Mr Tam did not mention the fact that this subject is going to be taught in primary as well as secondary schools. I doubt if a primary school pupil is mature enough to have the critical thinking skills needed for such a course.

I do not think a strike by students or even a decision to boycott national education classes would be feasible.

However, we should try to stop this subject becoming established in schools.

Lluvia Yu, Sha Tin

Maths a lot more than practical tool

I refer to Alex Lo's column ('Is maths necessary? Well, up to a point', August 2).

The purpose of mathematics education is not just utilitarian, as many of the practical functions of mathematics can be carried out by machines (calculators, computers).

The reason we teach mathematics in school is to instil in children the ability of abstract thinking, to be able to conduct reasoning logically, and to see the hidden relationships between phenomena.

The inadequacy of mathematics education in Hong Kong is not so much in teaching the 'wrong' kind of mathematics, as Lo suggests, but putting too much emphasis on calculating techniques, and not enough on what mathematics is and what it can do.

Starting next month, the faculty of science of the University of Hong Kong will be introducing a course in quantitative reasoning where students will explore the different branches of mathematics and learn how they can be applied to a variety of disciplines (yes, including the stock market).

Mathematics is a lot more than a practical tool. It broadens our horizon, elevates our mind, and makes us an intelligent being.

Sun Kwok, dean of science, University of Hong Kong