Criticisms of schools consultation working group unjustified
I refer to 'Tongue-tied over medium of instruction' (Education Post, June 25).
First, it is not true that the proportion of English medium of instruction (EMI) schools fell from a peak of more than 90 per cent in 1986 to just 55 per cent in 1996 when schools were free to decide on their own medium of instruction (MOI). The trend was the opposite - more than 90 per cent of secondary schools claimed to use English as the teaching medium in 1996, despite research findings that only a small proportion of Form One students were able to learn effectively through English.
Secondly, the criticisms that the working group has failed to listen to the public's views and that the consultation was not sincere are unfair to the group. In the past five months, the working group has attended more than 60 consultation sessions and genuinely exchanged views with different stakeholders, including parents and students. Very often, the participants would come to appreciate the group's thinking behind the proposals. We have been open to counter-proposals, which have been, from time to time, brought back to the meeting table of the working group for deliberation.
Thirdly, we cannot agree with the assertion that the working group's proposals are not based on solid research. Over the past few decades, Hong Kong has conducted many research studies, which have repeatedly confirmed that students learn best in their mother tongue (that is Chinese for most students in Hong Kong) and the gist of the findings of these studies is set out in annex two of the consultation document.
There has been strong evidence from the studies to support the group's rationale for its proposals. The figure of the top 40 per cent of Form One students being able to learn in English is derived from a recent study conducted by Chinese University of Hong Kong, which is detailed in annex five of the consultation document. We have indeed given a full account of this aspect in our consultation document.
Fourthly, regarding Dr Ho Kwok-keung's reported comments that the working group 'lacked members with relevant academic experience in language' and that 'when the report came out, we were surprised to discover it was almost all about language', I wish to reiterate that the mandate of the working group is to review the MOI for secondary schools and secondary school places allocation. As far as 'language' is concerned, its focus is on language in education rather than language education. The latter is well taken care of by the Standing Committee on Language Education and Research (SCOLAR), which completed a review of language education in Hong Kong and issued The Final Report of Language Education Review in June 2003.
As a matter of fact, the membership of the working group has a good mix of academics, school sponsors, frontline education workers and community members. When necessary, the group has also sought advice from experts in the relevant fields, including language experts.
Lastly, in response to the remark that 'bilingual education systems in some European countries had worked well', I wish to point out that Scandinavian countries, such as Norway, Denmark, Sweden and Finland, which are known for successfully nurturing bilingual and multi-lingual talents, generally adopt their mother tongues as the principal MOI with English and other languages taught as a second language. One must not confuse learning English with using English as the MOI. A two-year longitudinal study recently conducted by Professor Amy Tsui Bik-mei of The University of Hong Kong has reaffirmed that effective learning of English can be practised in all schools regardless of their medium of instruction.
The public consultation has just come to a close. While there have been some dissenting views, there are also voices of support. As in the past, there can hardly be consensus on this highly controversial subject. The test is to strike the right balance with the interests of our students in mind.
Secretary for and on behalf of the Working Group on Review of Secondary School Places Allocation and Medium of Instruction for Secondary Schools