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PUBLISHED : Saturday, 20 January, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 20 January, 2007, 12:00am

Global city fails to hear other languages

I am writing in response to G. Dudley's letter titled 'Race discrimination guaranteed in diploma' (Education Post, January 6). I cannot agree with the author. The Education and Manpower Bureau's assurances for the provision of support in Chinese for minorities and immigrants are short-sighted and hypocritical.

In learning a foreign language, students' perceptions of language and their view of the world are challenged and widened.

As an international city, Hong Kong's young people should be allowed, like their peers elsewhere, to excel in learning other languages. However, the EMB deems this to be outside the bounds of its resources or consideration. At most it can offer support to help students cope with Chinese.

The diploma guarantees not only discrimination, but practically forces students to be resigned to a fate of educational inferiority, mediocrity, or, worse, failure. It is hypocritical for liberal studies to be made compulsory in the hope that it will help our students become global citizens when a valuable tool such as foreign language learning gets thrown out like the baby with the bathwater.

Not only should French be retained as an acceptable alternative to Chinese, language examinations should also be expanded to include languages such as German, Korean and Japanese. And these should all be considered as acceptable language qualifications in place of Chinese, particularly for those who have not had the benefit of years of education in Chinese.

J. GREY, Sha Tin.

Put students back on a level playing field

In Graham Kennedy's response to the Tutorial School Oral Examiner ('Fairness built in to English examination', Education Post, January 6) he failed to give a convincing argument on the fairness of the new oral exam format in which candidates are given harder or easier questions based their performance in the discussion.

Mr Kennedy's rationale for the fairness of this method is that it is designed 'to give both weaker and stronger candidates an opportunity of showing what they are capable of.' This means that a standard question for everyone is unfair. However, he did not explain how giving the same question to all candidates (a method traditionally accepted as fair) was in itself unfair. He instead explained how the testing set-up made it unfair.

The problem is that students can hear other students' answers. If you look at another student's maths paper during a test, you will be punished for cheating. Is the solution then to give each student different questions? Besides being time consuming, each student will not receive a test that is equal in difficulty. The obvious solution is to give everyone the same test and not allow them to hear other students during testing. In past years, this has been the norm.

If the examinations authority is making the one-minute individual response a second chance for students, then it's only fair for the examiners to revise their initial mark (based on the discussion). If it is adjusted downwards, the examiner has to wonder if they made a mistake and chose a question too difficult for the student. If so, the purpose ('show what [the student] is capable of') has been defeated. The level of complexity involved in choosing the right question for the right student is a potential disaster in the making. It is made even worse because students have no recourse for a review of their grade.

By trying to solve the problem of fairness the HKEAA has created an even more complicated monster out of a test which is, by its nature, a subjective beast. I hope the HKEAA will admit their mistake and put the candidates back on a level playing field.


Cash-rich government should help students

Here's a budget proposal: do something for the university students from middle-class families who rely on the non-means-tested loan scheme (NLS), because the means test by the Government Student Financial Assistance Agency (GSFAA) will exclude them from the Local Student-Finance Scheme. Annual university tuition fees are HK$42,100. Together with pocket money and travelling expenses, students borrow to buy textbooks, writing materials and equipment. The GSFAA allows students to borrow a maximum HK$34,220. This means that students from middle-class families will on average borrow HK$76,320 a year from the GSFAA. A three-year course will require them to borrow about HK$228,960.

The NLS requires a guarantor for repayment of the loan with interest within 10 years after graduation. No one except the poor middle-class parent will act as the guarantor. This means that after graduation, the student will need to repay a loan of about HK$400,000. If the students fail to make repayment, the parent will shoulder the responsibility.

Now that the government has a hefty surplus, it should help students by suspending repayment if they fail to land a job and increasing the repayment period.

WONG CHAN, Kowloon

Still waiting for pay

I am writing concerning the article, 'Language teacher owed HK$20,000' (Education Post, January 13).

I had the misfortune to work for Stuart Barrett at Park Language in August-September 2005. In the article he claims that 'No matter how late we are, everyone gets paid'. This is untrue. I am still owed HK$15,000 for the work I did in that period and others are in the same boat. I have given up on any expectation of getting paid.

I applaud the South China Morning Post for bringing this matter to public light.

BILL BYRNE, Mid-Levels