Research casts doubts on mother-tongue education

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 15 March, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 15 March, 2008, 12:00am

School policy is not a failure, seven-year study shows, but it has let down students seeking university places

The mother-tongue education policy is not helping students gain entrance to university, the author of a seven-year tracking study said yesterday.

Tsang Wing-kwong said his studies on the school careers of the first two years of students affected by the policy showed that English had become the 'educationally profitable linguistic capital'. He is a Chinese University professor of education and associate director of the Institute of Educational Research.

As students needed to pass the English A-level to qualify for university, those who did not study other subjects in the language were at a distinct advantage, with those who studied in Chinese up to the end of secondary school only around 30 per cent as likely to qualify.

'I wouldn't say [mother-tongue education] has failed,' Professor Tsang said. 'But my conclusion is that if gaining access to university education is one of the primary objectives of secondary education, then [it] has proved to be not serving the best interests of its clients.'

Although Professor Tsang officially released his results from the third round of the study yesterday, the main findings had been extensively leaked and widely reported several weeks in advance.

The study followed the performance of 37,277 students who entered Form One in 1998 and 1999 until they completed A-levels in 2005 and 2006. The latest results compare the students' A-level scores, taking into account the effect of their gender, prior achievement level, socio-economic background, and the average academic performance and social background of other students in their schools.

Although students in Chinese-medium schools performed better in some areas, particularly earlier in school, it was 'an uneven trade-off' that was outweighed by poorer English, Professor Tsang said. 'You lose more in the use of English A-level but gain less than that in Chinese-language and culture. The trade off in performance is about half.'

Students who studied in Chinese-medium schools throughout secondary almost did not display any advantage at all. The only exception was geography, in which students continued to outperform their English medium counterparts right through to the A-levels.

And although those who switched to using English during their secondary school careers fared better, the ones who did so earlier were also at an advantage. 'And you can say that changing [to English] at Form Six is basically a disaster,' Professor Tsang said. 'The indicators are all negative.'

The Education Bureau is consulting secondary schools to look at ways to 'fine tune' the medium of instruction policy - apparently to blur the clear-cut distinction between English and Chinese-medium schools. The results are expected to be released before the summer break.

The bureau said it welcomed the results from Professor Tsang's study, but it was not appropriate to comment without studying the content and recommendations.

However, it added that the number of students from Chinese-medium schools gaining passes in at least five subjects, including Chinese and English, in last year's HKCEEs was 10.6 per cent higher than in 2002 and up 1.9 per cent on 2006.

Report card

The probability of students at Chinese-medium schools passing exams compared with those at English-medium schools

CMIC: Schools which switch from Chinese to English in Form 4-5

CMIC: Schools with consistently teach in Chinese

Exam to gain entry to Form 6

CMIE 37%

CMIC 23%

Exam to gain entry to most universities

CMIE 86%

CMIC 50%

How students in Form Three at Chinese-language secondary schools perform in various subjects compared with those at English-medium schools

English worse

Chinese same

Maths same

Physics better

Chemistry better

Biology better

Economics better

Georgraphy better

History better

Chinese history better