Workplace English language campaign needs far wider scope

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 30 November, 2002, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 30 November, 2002, 12:00am

I read your report on the Workplace English Campaign (WEC) (Education Post, November 16) with interest. As the head of an education establishment dedicated to improving the English standards of Hong Kong adults (and also one of the territory's largest referrer of applicants for WEC funds), I'd like to make some observations.

The government certainly deserves recognition for instituting this scheme as a response to the business community's concerns about English competence in the workforce. The campaign's aim, to raise awareness of the importance of English and encourage employees to improve their language standard through course subsidies, as stated by the Standing Committee on Language Education and Research (SCOLAR), is worthy and necessary. Unfortunately, as your article stated, it is not having the desired effect due to a variety of factors. Firstly, many potential applicants are denied access because of the narrow definition of qualifying job categories. Additionally, many who do qualify are deterred by the idea of taking exams (especially the more mature members of the workforce) because they realise that WEC-funded English qualifications are vague and do not represent an essential commodity for employers in the same way as a degree, accountancy qualification or even a HKCEE pass.

Secondly, the business community complains that the current WEC scheme fails to meet its needs without saying much about what those needs might be. Whereas larger companies regard the WEC's focus on mostly low-proficiency jobs as inappropriate, and its benchmarking as an unsuitable guide to competency, many SMEs fail to grasp the whole idea of the importance of English in a service-led economy. The result is that WEC is not being driven by the business community.

All these issues could be resolved quite simply. Instead of letting WEC die of inertia, the government should expand the scheme ten-fold to encompass any working adult who wishes to improve his or her English.

SCOLAR could create two universally-recognised qalifications in collaboration with the business community and English language education providers.

As David Dodwell, co-convenor of the Business Coalition on Education has indicated, companies in Hong Kong buy skills off the shelf. We owe it to our future to ensure that our shelf is never bare.


Chairman, Wall Street Institute,