talk back

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 12 June, 2004, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 12 June, 2004, 12:00am

Q Should we be worried about the performance of teachers in the English benchmark tests?

English teachers need a high standard of language proficiency. I believe, however, that the benchmark tests are flawed and need overhauling.

If the pass rates for listening were 72 per cent in June 2003 and 37 per cent in June 2004, the only logical conclusion I can draw is that the latter test was much more difficult - this seems unfair.

The low pass rates for the writing test seem to support the critique of Philip Glenwright (June 5) about the lack of clarity in this part of the test. Normally, one would expect a higher degree of correlation between reading and writing ability.

David Carless, Sha Tin

When the benchmark language test results were released a few days ago, the standard of our English and Putonghua, especially English, teachers was criticised.

The results, especially the pass rate in the listening and speaking tests, are no doubt depressing. However, I wonder if the tests fairly reflect the standard of language teachers.

The result of the listening test has dropped by half compared with the pass rate a year ago. As suggested by some candidates, this may be due to the test becoming more difficult.

It is essential to maintain a consistent level. In addition, the test currently only assesses a teacher's English level but not teaching ability. What I suggest is a fairer and all-round assessment of the ability of language teachers.

Yeung Chun-wing, Tsuen Wan

As a school principal and vice-chairman on education convergence, Tso Kai-lok seems remarkably uninformed about how his own teachers attain the compulsory language proficiency benchmark ('English teaching skills plummet' on Thursday). As Mr Tso should be well aware, approaching 50 per cent of all Hong Kong teachers have now attended what he misleadingly refers to as 'exemption courses' at various tertiary institutions.

Teachers attending these courses are continuously assessed on the same language skills, using the same criteria as those taking the Education and Manpower Bureau's benchmark test. It's not just a question of finishing the course; as Mr Tso rightly points out: anyone can do that. Completing the course while satisfying the EMB's requirements is a very different matter.

Alison Ridley, acting head of the Centre for Professional and Business English, Polytechnic University

I find your headline 'English teaching skills plummet' misleading and alarmist.

Firstly, the benchmark test is a test of language skills, not teaching skills. Of course language skills are a pre-requisite for good teaching. However, they are not the same thing. Let's be clear about this: the benchmark test does not test teaching skills. The closest it comes to this is to assess teachers' on-the-job language skills in the classroom language component of the test. Pass rates in this component have consistently hovered between 85 and 90 per cent.

Secondly, English language skills haven't plummeted. Yes, there was a large fall in the number of teachers who passed the listening test, and - assuming that the test was well-designed and reliable - this is worrying.

However, the difference is probably that the teachers with poorer language skills are now taking the test and these are the ones showing up on the current statistics. Many of the more linguistically able teachers have already successfully completed the benchmark test. No one's language standards have fallen. In fact, many teachers' language skills have undoubtedly improved as thousands have enrolled on EMB-sponsored proficiency courses which provide an alternative route to attaining the benchmark.

A more informative headline might be 'Teachers' English language skills still a cause for concern'. Not as racy, but considerably less insulting.

Richard McGeough, teacher education programme co-ordinator, Polytechnic University

Q Should we stop eating coral fish to preserve stocks?

It is not necessary to stop eating coral reef fish, only to think about not eating species that are threatened. The humphead wrasse is a threatened coral reef fish and WWF Hong Kong's public awareness campaign is designed to provide information so that people who want to can make 'green' eating choices.

People should have the option not to eat threatened species. There are plenty of other species that can be eaten. For any fishery, whether for live or dead fish, sustainable harvesting and responsible consumption are the keys to the preservation of marine resources. Coral reef fish has traditionally been the major source of protein for many island countries such as the Philippines, Indonesia and Fiji and these fish will continue to be important. It was not until the early 1980s that live coral reef fish became popular seafood in Hong Kong, and this luxury habit has spread rapidly to China and other Chinese communities all over the world.

Apart from being a major source of protein, coral reef fish also provides a substantial income for these developing countries. Exported live coral reef fish fetch much more than dead fish of the same weight and so bring a good income. If sustainably harvested, the live reef fish trade can help to improve the livelihood of fishermen in exporting countries.

However, without effective implementation of regulations and monitoring systems, the unsustainable removal of vulnerable species like humphead wrasses has reached an alarming level. Action should be taken, and an informed and concerned public can turn the tide.

Clarus Chu, assistant conservation officer, WWF Hong Kong