PUBLISHED : Saturday, 08 March, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 08 March, 2008, 12:00am

Barefoot children need basic necessities before personal computers

Two stories in the South China Morning Post on March 1 highlighted very different approaches to helping poor mountain children in different parts of the world.

'Mountain pupils hope for shoes and clothes' reported the unfortunate primary school children in remote Yunnan, shivering in the cold of winter and going barefoot.

The dreams of those mountain children focus on getting a decent pair of shoes and warm clothing. Let us hope that some Hong Kong charity will now come forward and support them to achieve their basic dream.

The other was a photo essay on South America, 'Lapping it up'. There in the remote hilltop villages of Peru, a scheme aims to provide a laptop computer to each primary school pupil. However, the teachers involved in this scheme appear to be grossly under-trained, and unaware of the inappropriate and even disturbing materials which unrestricted access to the internet can put in front of young children.

It must be a matter for debate whether the provision of a personal computer really is the best thing to help educate a poor child in a rural hamlet. Better local schools and more teachers would probably be much more effective.

Basic necessities, including adequate shelter, food and clothing/shoes, should be provided before the comparative luxury of computers. And this, especially as uncontrolled internet access could do more harm than good to those young children.


Policy of mother-tongue teaching needs refining

As someone who came through the local schooling system and later employed staff whose 'tool of the trade' is English, I can testify to Elsie Tu's observation that the decline in the standard of school leavers' English started long before the introduction of mother-tongue medium of instruction.

I agree with the South China Morning Post editorial of February 23 that 'we need to refine mother-tongue teaching, not to abandon it'. But I would add that it is the implementation of the policy, not the policy itself, that needs refining. The policy is a must, because to learn or work through a non-mother-tongue medium, one is always at a disadvantage or, to put it bluntly, handicapped.

The root of the problem lies with its implementation, not least the reversal of the policy only 14 months into its introduction, by the then chief secretary, who last year in the pre-election debate to fill a vacant Legislative Council seat requested that the debate be conducted in English because she was not at home with the Chinese language!

But what started the mother-tongue policy being considered in the 1980s was the fact that our teachers were largely neither good enough in English nor in Chinese, turning out successive generations who were even worse.

So, benchmarking teachers' standards of both English and Chinese is very necessary, but teachers resisted it, as Michael Tien Puk-sun reminded us in the latest round of debate. Improving teachers' mother-tongue language is the easier of the two and is sustainable.


Change in direction over the MOI is long overdue

I commend Michael Suen Ming-yeung, the secretary for education, for signalling a shift in the current regressive medium-of-instruction policy. From the perspective of students, parents and schools, among other interest groups, this change has been long overdue.

The decade-long appeasement of Beijing interests has only bred a two-tiered class system that denies most young Hong Kong people genuine access to the world's lingua franca, English, and the associated discourses of business, information technology, science, arts and so on. English language is increasingly essential to providing a broad, liberal, well-rounded education in this rapidly globalising world.

The situation has become quite farcical, since many of those previously arguing for mother-tongue priority are now arguing the case for Putonghua to be adopted as the official Chinese language of Hong Kong. It demonstrates the extent to which politics has shaped - and skewed - the policy of the government thus far. Let's hope the current Education Bureau review, and Mr Suen's own determination to at last act in the best interests of Hong Kong's students, comes to fruition sooner rather than later.

In terms of the overall reform of education in Hong Kong, this unresolved medium-of-instruction issue is key to unlocking the potential of Hong Kong's next generation.


Nude photos scandal should be a wake-up callI am sure a lot of parties are hurt by the recent nude photo scandal. When Gillian Chung Yan-tung stepped forward to meet the press and uttered her apologies, she staged a commendable show of courage. But there is one thing I cannot fathom: for what was she apologising? After all, she is a victim. The owner of the pictures is also a victim, despite it being his negligence that has spawned all these pictures.

It also baffles me to hear outcries from parents accusing her of being a hypocrite, of demolishing her angelic image planted in the minds of their children and hurting them all. Let's all grow up and stop being silly and naive.

The bright side of this scandal is when it is able to serve as a wake-up call to idols' fans and their parents. Artists are entertainers, and entertaining is their job. Creating an image is a skill they have to master. Off camera, they are normal human beings. They would not necessarily possess higher moral standards than we do and it is unfair of us to expect it of them.

When it comes to our children, what we should teach them to follow should be universally upright values per se, not personified icons of them.

JYK CHENG, Quarry Bay

Students need to get rest

Sleeping plays a significant role in maintaining health. However, in our society plenty of people ignore the importance of enough sleep, especially teenagers. People place much emphasis on exam results. In order to get satisfying results, students tend to study from dawn until bedtime. Some may even give up their sleeping time.

To me, there's no point burning the midnight oil. After working for one whole day, it is necessary to let our bodies rest.

MANDY SHE LAI-MAN, Christian Alliance S.C. Chan Memorial College