Language test for teachers a failure

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 24 June, 2006, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 24 June, 2006, 12:00am

It has been widely discussed, roundly criticised and rigorously defended. Last month saw the closing chapter of the series of benchmark tests with the release of the results of possibly the last batch of candidates.

It all began eight years ago with the introduction with good intentions of mother tongue teaching. How this could have exploded into political argument is beyond anyone's guess.

The Language Proficiency Assessment for Teachers has not achieved anything educationally substantive.

Professor Philip Hoare of the Hong Kong Institute of Education, who was also involved in the design of the test, has admitted that the benchmark amounted to an artificial line, but argued that it was a means of forcing teachers to pay more attention to their language proficiency. Whether it was introduced in the right way was a political issue, he said.

If we look at the wider education landscape in the same way it could be argued that you need to pass the benchmark to teach maths, science or any other subject. The government was clearly eager to prove its determination to 'improve our education', and picked on the teaching profession to do so.

This could have happened only in Hong Kong and regrettably to a profession which, ironically, has one of the most powerful unions to represent its members' interests and rights. Were this to happen in the UK, it could have triggered a national inquiry and it could be the competence of the education ministers which was being questioned.

The fate of the 1,000 or so English teachers who failed to make the grade would not bother the Education and Manpower Bureau that would consider the scheme successful given that the majority of teachers have achieved level three.

But what is disturbing is the general atmosphere of acceptance of fate within the profession and that the public perception of the benchmark test has been changed from resistance to acceptance. It would be a real tragedy if the test passed some who shouldn't have and failed others who are good teachers.

Commentators have said we should now move on to other things, such as how teaching and learning of English can be further improved.

The government should not be surprised that parents are still determined to enrol their children in English schools.

The Examinations and Assessment Authority maintains that standards have not dropped but go to any EMI school and students there can testify how lessons are taught. Those who still believe that English is widely used are only fooling themselves. Parents who think that their children are now in the hands of competent teachers should think twice.

Francis Wann is an English teacher in a Chinese medium school.