Government must work to win over parents

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 05 November, 1997, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 05 November, 1997, 12:00am

Strong opposition to the compulsory introduction of mother-tongue education spells yet another failure of the Government to make use of public education as part and parcel of its public policy programmes.

The Government has since 1980 been promoting mother-tongue teaching which to date has only been accepted by 72 out of 400 secondary schools.

The major obstacle is parental opposition which stemmed from an anachronistic bias against the use of Chinese as the medium of instruction.

According to a recent survey conducted by the Federation of Young Groups, some 73 per cent of students and parents believed that mother-tongue teaching would drag down English standards, while 50 per cent thought it would affect their chances of finding a job or getting a place at university.

This grossly distorted view was reinforced by the changing political climate which, some people allege, would gradually downgrade the status of English. Some 80 per cent of the parents even indicated that they preferred mixed languages in classroom teaching.

What parents do not realise is the urgent need to improve existing language teaching in our schools.

At the moment, due to the background of a motley student population and the English standards of some teachers, the undesirable mixed language - Chinglish as it is called - is being taught in local schools. It is not uncommon that some teachers of English, in particular primary school teachers, have a smattering of English often full of grammatical errors.

Under the present circumstances, there is a general slippage in language standards at the secondary and tertiary levels, be it Chinese or English.

As a remedial measure, the Education Commission recommended in its Report No 6 the compulsory implementation of mother-tongue education to take effect in September 1998.

Whilst efforts have been made by the Education Department to promote mother-tongue education, it has yet failed to untie the psychological knot of parents holding a bigoted, misguided view.

The general public has to be informed about the essence of mother-tongue education.

Under mother-tongue teaching, students not only learn different subjects in their native language more effectively, but they are also given upgraded, refined teaching in both Chinese and English.

The fact that the number of students from Chinese-language middle schools who passed English language exams was 20 per cent higher than average should be made widely known. The lifting of the language barrier for most students in the study of various subjects would enhance their understanding and help develop their inquiring and critical thinking. Further, students learning history, biology and mathematics in Chinese are encouraged to learn the vocabularies in English as well. Given that they are good in both Chinese and English, through linguistic transfer, they can easily switch to English when they specialise in those subjects at universities, here and abroad.

Parental opposition to mother-tongue education is the result of a lack of proper public understanding and misplaced emphasis on the use of English as a medium of teaching. To eradicate such misunderstanding requires long-term, intensive public education without which people's attitudes will not change. The Government should learn from its failed attempts to launch a central provident fund and to increase sewage charges due to inadequate public education; as well as its success in promoting the Clean Hong Kong and fight drug campaigns. It would do well to remember this saying that 'an organisation can hardly survive, less flourish, unless it succeeds in establishing and maintaining mutual understanding with its public'.