Students must be given choice

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 13 November, 1997, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 13 November, 1997, 12:00am

David Cheung Chi-kong, in his letter headlined, 'New education policy socially divisive' (South China Morning Post, November 1), criticised our Medium of Instruction Guidance for not making mother-tongue teaching mandatory for all secondary schools.

Let me first pay tribute to Mr Cheung as a forerunner in Hong Kong's drive for mother-tongue teaching. Like him, we understand some parents' almost absolute bias for English-medium instruction, particularly in the past decade or two. Meanwhile, we are mindful of the interests of our students. Our prime concern is that the choice of medium of instruction in schools should best enable them to learn effectively.

Chinese, the mother tongue of most of our students, will be the teaching medium in most secondary schools. English will continue to be allowed in secondary schools which can give evidence that this is educationally beneficial to their students. Such schools must demonstrate that their student ability, teacher capability and support strategies and programmes meet requirements.

Briefly, our Medium of Instruction Guidance may be summarised as follows: We aim to help students learn better in all subjects through the mother tongue.

We want our young people to be biliterate and trilingual, that is, be conversant with written English and Chinese and be able to speak fluent Cantonese, Putonghua and English.

We therefore also consider English important.

We want Hong Kong to maintain its position as an international city.

On teacher capability, the principal of a school should and must be in the best position to assess: through recruitment selection, by performance appraisal and by day-to-day contact. Relevant information provided by the principal will be further considered by the Vetting Committee chaired by a non-official.

Like Mr Cheung, we in the Education Department are adamant that mixed code should not be used in schools. Of course, school inspections alone cannot guarantee against non-compliance. Hence, we are ready to censure and sanction. However, we also rely on the professional ethics of our co-workers in the school sector and on their commitment to quality education for our young.

Mr Cheung may wish to know that the Hong Kong Institute of Education will continue to offer courses, both pre-service and in, to help enhance the language standards of teachers using Chinese or English as the medium of instruction.

We are firm in our resolve to implement mother-tongue teaching for the benefit of our students and to develop them to be biliterate and trilingual.

K. S. LEE for Director of Education