PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 13 July, 2005, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 13 July, 2005, 12:00am

Q Is the decline in English-language performance related to the mother-tongue policy?

Recently Arthur Li Kwok-cheung, secretary for education and manpower, said it would be too hasty to use only one year of Hong Kong A-Level results to back a conclusion that falling English standards are a reflection of a failing mother-tongue education system.

But he was more than ready to jump on the primary schools that failed to recruit 23 or more pupils in one year, refusing their plea to convert to private schools and telling them instead to think about why they had not been able to attract pupils.

The use of the term 'mother-tongue' education is seriously flawed. To succeed in Hong Kong, everyone, regardless of their race, should have the opportunity to be educated equally well in English and Chinese.

The past two decades have seen many of our friends and relatives migrating to English-speaking countries. Imagine if they were told their children could only attend Cantonese-medium schools because of their mother tongue and that they would not be eligible to attend mainstream English-speaking schools.

Such an outrageous hypothetical proposition is a reality in today's Hong Kong for some ethnic minorities that want greater exposure to an education in Cantonese, and for some local Chinese who want more exposure to the English language.

Name and address supplied

A-Level English exam results are declining, so it's no wonder our school language policy is so controversial.

On the one hand, we recognise the importance and benefits of using our mother tongue (Cantonese) in teaching. But on the other hand, we don't have confidence in our students' level of English to believe it won't decline if they are taught in Chinese-speaking schools.

All the universities in Hong Kong teach in English. The end result will be that parents and students will still think schools that teach in English are the elite.

Recently, applications for international schools have skyrocketed. One direct subsidy English-medium school has a waiting list of 350 children trying to get into Form One.

At the same time, affluent parents are sending their children to private Hong Kong schools or even schools in the United States in search of a better English-speaking education.

If the government keeps up its nonchalant attitude, the consequences will be a serious brain drain.

Karen Yu, Tsing Yi

Q Are five demerit points sufficient penalty for running a red light?

I've never understood why the traffic lights in Hong Kong have two amber lights - one to warn when the light is going to go red, and one to warn when the light is going to go green.

Why not just drop the amber-to-green light? What is the point of it anyway? It only causes confusion for a driver approaching an intersection because they often cannot predict which way the light is going after the amber - is it going red or green? By doing away with the amber-to-green light, the confusion will be avoided, and the amber light will be treated as a 'slow down' before red.

There is no point having the amber-to-green light anyway. If traffic can go then the light should be green. If traffic cannot go, the light should remain red. By doing away with the amber-to-green light there is no reason for any leniency towards those people who jump the lights.

Susan B. Ramsay, Tseung Kwan O

On other matters...

An article on Friday quoted the chief executive of the MTR Corp, Chow Chung-kwong, as saying it would be difficult to eliminate the problem of train drivers failing to realise that screen doors had malfunctioned.

I suggest that there would be no difficulty whatsoever if the drivers reverted to a practice that was in place for at least the first 20 years of the MTR's existence. Previously, a driver would invariably come out of his cabin and ensure that it was safe to close the train doors before doing so. Discontinuing this measure was probably due to time-saving grounds, although I doubt if more than a minute could be saved over a complete train journey.

Reviving the practice would allow drivers to be certain that passengers had safely boarded the train.

John Wilson, Yau Ma Tei

It was interesting to read about the problems encountered by the correspondent who had trouble trying to get his surfboard on a bus from the airport.

The fact that the airport buses are not now able or willing to transport large items is just another aspect that contributes to the perception that Hong Kong is still not a major international city.

We experienced similar intransigence from the Long Win Bus Company when we tried to board the bus with a bike packed in a box. This was late at night and on a bus that was almost empty. Not only was the bus driver impolite, but we were left with very few options to get home.

Protracted and lengthy correspondence with the company has not produced any positive change of policy.

Surely transport operators should do what they can to help the public. In this case, vague company rules were interpreted in the strictest manner by the driver.

Has the Tourism Board or the Transport Department any muscle or inclination to persuade the bus company to act differently and to be a truly public service?

Phil Holmes, Hong Kong Cycling Alliance