Cantonese must be preserved: academic

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 03 November, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 03 November, 2007, 12:00am

Fears Putonghua plan will edge out dialect

An academic has defended Cantonese as a medium of instruction after a government advisory body this week backed a HK$200 million scheme to help schools use Putonghua to teach Chinese language.

The Standing Committee on Language Education and Research (Scolar) gave the go-ahead for the scheme to be implemented in 160 schools as part of a so-called 'three-year tracking study'.

But Pamela Leung Pui-wan, associate professor in the department of Chinese at the Hong Kong Institute of Education, said the proposal should not signal a move away from using Cantonese.

'It is a national trend to adopt Putonghua as the medium of instruction, but we can't let children miss out on the opportunity to be educated in their own dialect,' Dr Leung said.

'Spoken Putonghua is similar to written Chinese and a closer medium for learning modern Chinese language, but it doesn't mean Cantonese is inferior.

'If students miss out on learning via Cantonese, it will be a real shame. Cantonese should be accurately preserved as it is a way of tracking human civilisation in the southern China region.'

Although Dr Leung acknowledged the benefits of learning modern Chinese language in Putonghua, she said Cantonese made the study of ancient poetry more accurate because its pronunciation was similar to language used during the Tang and Qin dynasties.

Scolar chairman Michael Tien Pak-san said the purpose of the tracking study was to produce evidence to support using Putonghua to teach Chinese language and to raise the standards of Chinese language as part of a long-term strategy spelled out in a reform proposal published by the Curriculum Development Council.

The scheme would accept 30 primary schools and 10 secondary schools every year, with each school subsidised to hire a supplementary teacher.

Mainland consultants would also be brought in to offer advice.

Cheung Man-kwong, the lawmaker representing the education sector, said if Putonghua was not taught properly it could cause learning problems.

'This would outweigh the benefits of learning Chinese using Putonghua,' he said.

Mr Cheung said he suspected there were patriotic and political rather than educational motives behind the move.

Mr Tien denied this. 'We have never discussed patriotism and it will not involve political factors,' he said.

Tam Yiu-chung, chairman of the pro-Beijing Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong, welcomed the scheme.

'I think this is a very good policy but it requires the correct implementation, such as teacher training and an appropriate time for the policy to mature,' he said.

'The key problem for students and teachers is that there aren't many opportunities for them to actually speak the language.'