Education policy kept communities apart

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 03 April, 1997, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 03 April, 1997, 12:00am

I refer to the editorial headlined, 'Question of language' (South China Morning Post, March 22), which rightly observed the generally low level of fluency in English speaking in Hong Kong.

The failure of language education in Hong Kong epitomises the failure of the British to win the hearts of the local population.

If we compare Japan's experience in Taiwan, we may see why few tears are shed and little gratitude is shown to the British now that they are leaving.

In the 1940s, it was Japan's education policy in Taiwan that Taiwanese should learn to speak Japanese like native Japanese speakers.

Until the early 1980s, the Taiwanese Government had to strictly control the import of Japanese films and goods in order to discourage Japanese influence on the island.

Nowadays educated Taiwanese in their 70s and older still readily speak fluent Japanese among themselves.

But no such discouragement would be needed to control British influence in Hong Kong. The practice of segregation in Hong Kong education has been founded on a complex combination of apartheid and laissez-faire that has always kept the Chinese and the British in separate communities.

In Hong Kong Remembers, Lady May Ride recalls that in the interwar years, the daughters of Sir Robert Hotung were not permitted to attend the Central British School which had been funded by their father, because they were Chinese.

Some junior schools of the English Schools Foundation adopted an arbitrary admission policy that effectively discriminated against children who could not speak English like a native speaker.

Due to the practice of segregation in education, there have never been any Anglophiles in Hong Kong comparable to Nippon-philes in pre-and post-war Taiwan.

In 1945, the British Army Aid Group (BAAG) found it embarrassing that residents of the crown colony were much more willing to wave the Kuomintang and Stars and Stripes flags, than the Union Jack, for Admiral Harcourt's arrival to reclaim the territory.

Unfortunately, despite the many contributions of the British in post-war Hong Kong, similar embarrassment awaits them when they beat a final retreat.

Little cross-racial compatriotism has been developed in the century-long colonial history largely because of the practice of segregation in Hong Kong's English education.