Early language testing 'unfair'

PUBLISHED : Monday, 22 July, 1996, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 22 July, 1996, 12:00am

Early language streaming wastes talent and can deprive children of education opportunities, according to a language education study.

Such a policy defeats the point of a fair, compulsory education system and may hinder students in developing their full potential, the study concludes.

Conducted by researchers at the Chinese University of Hong Kong's Education Faculty, the study - Education and Social Determinants of Language Education Policy - examined the relationship between students' language proficiency and academic performance at secondary level.

It also investigated the effect of language streaming, which was introduced in 1994 and classified students into three categories (English, Chinese and Bilingual).

Students from Form One, Three and Five in 32 schools were tested, and it was found that streaming on the basis of languages failed to give them a fair education opportunity.

One of the researchers, Dr Tsang Wing-kwong of the Department of Education, Administration and Policy, said the results showed that students who were classified with low language proficiency had a high improvement rate during their secondary school years.

Less than one-third of the sampled students stayed at their initial levels of bilingual proficiency, while 39.1 per cent and 49.7 per cent of Form Five and Form Three students respectively showed improvement during the two-year testing period.

'That indicates that language proficiency changes as students move on in their secondary studies. Students show progress,' Dr Tsang said.

'But the early streaming by language proficiency would result in talent leakage. Students who are capable of learning in English will not be given a chance to do that. We'd have missed them and thus sacrificed their potential.' On the other hand, those classified as having a high language competence in the early stage but who fail to live up to the prediction finally cause a waste of resources of the education sector, he said.

'It raises a question concerning the predictive efficiency of early language streaming. The earlier the streaming takes place, the more likely errors will occur,' Dr Tsang said.

Language streaming in early secondary level would also deprive students of the right to compete on an equal basis - such as learning in the mother tongue - and defeat the principle of the nine-year compulsory education.

'In my opinion, streaming should take place after the third form upon completion of compulsory education when students are given the right to make choices.' The study also investigated the effect of socio-economic status on language proficiency and found it was a more significant factor in students' English than in their Chinese. This too might become an unfair factor in early streaming, Dr Tsang said.