Early integration of non-Chinese speakers needs careful planning
Recently, a decision by the Education and Manpower Bureau (EMB) to phase out Primary One classes in 31 primary schools due to under-enrolment stirred up much disquiet. However, this is not the only education policy under fire. Starting from the 2004-05 academic year, the EMB will implement a new 'integration policy' to facilitate the allocation of ethnic minority children into mainstream public schools, applying to the Primary One and secondary school places allocation systems. At present, most ethnic minority children are concentrated in a handful of schools providing more focused support for non-Chinese-speaking students.
At a meeting held by the Ethnic Minority Education Concern Group at Yaumati Kaifong Association School on March 10 attended by more than 100 parents, many voiced the concern that this change in policy will have an adverse impact on their children's education. Since most mainstream schools in Hong Kong use Chinese, they worry about the difficulties their children will face overcoming the language barrier. Some parents also demanded that their children be given the chance to learn Urdu or Hindu in schools as a second language.
At the end of the meeting, the parents' signatures and opinions were collected and relayed to legislative councillors.
The government policy to facilitate the early integration of non-Chinese-speaking children into the local education system is undoubtedly of good intention. Indeed, a chance for these children to learn Chinese is beneficial. Some parents are in support of the new policy. Nevertheless, any change should be gradually implemented to minimise any unsettling experience for those children involved. Schools should get support from the EMB to develop alternative teaching materials to teach Chinese as a second language. The criteria according to which the Chinese-language abilities of these children are to be assessed must also be carefully considered. Perhaps they should have the option of taking international public examinations, GCSE for example, instead of the HKCEE.
Non-Chinese-speaking children may face difficulties not only in their school work, but also in adjusting to the new environment and making friends. The EMB must ensure that there are sufficient resources in schools to provide remedial language teaching and counselling services to these children. In addition, teachers should receive adequate training before such an integration policy is implemented to enhance their communication skills with non-Chinese-speaking children. Teachers in mainstream schools may not have a thorough understanding of the cultural differences between local and ethnic minority students, and misunderstandings could arise in teaching non-Chinese-speaking children using Chinese.
NET scheme mis-management
Ian Lewis ('Pay change clouds NETs scheme', Education Post, March 13) states that the NET scheme has been badly affected by a lack of awareness of the EMB to the situation of teachers coming to work here from abroad. Evidence for his claim can be found in a statement by Simon Tham Sheon-ming, chief curriculum development officer with the EMB in charge of the NETs scheme, ('Alienated' primary NETs threaten to go, March 13) who, in response to the lack of new contracts for NETs, said: 'It is only mid-March. Local teachers only get a month's notice'. He obviously has no understanding of what it means to work in a foreign country and the need to end a housing contract, pack up a family, seek another job elsewhere and move, and little understanding that foreign contract workers may have different needs to local teachers. However, I also pity local principals who only get a month's notice about whether they have a particular teacher or not for the following year. Surely the person in charge of the NET scheme should have some qualifications related to human resource management. Issuing contracts 'at the last minute' is either a lack of organisation or some form of power wielding, neither of which should be practised by a group involved in education.
Ethics in supported chair I was interested to read about US universities being embarrassed by corporate managers who face investigation or trial for alleged wrongdoings ('Educators taken to task after alumni fall', South China Morning Post, March 9).
It may amuse your readers to learn in this context that there is one Helmut Sohmen, distinguished Professor of Corporate Governance, teaching at the Cox School of Business at Southern Methodist University in Dallas, Texas, which was mentioned in your report. This chair was established with a donation from the head of worldwide shipping in a Hong Kong shipping firm. I believe it was created after the Enron scandal broke. It shows that some managers can also be constructive.
ADRIAN HO KWOK WA,