More teaching in English on the agenda

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 26 June, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 26 June, 2008, 12:00am

Education chief may further relax policy on language of instruction

Further relaxation of the policy on language of instruction in schools could be in store after the government said it was willing to consider allowing secondary schools to teach a quarter of their subjects in English regardless of their students' competence in the language.

The suggestion was raised at a meeting between Secretary for Education Michael Suen Ming-yeung yesterday and secondary schools representatives as part of a consultation on the medium of instruction policy.

Yip Chee-tim, chairman of the Association of Chinese Middle Schools, said the meeting had set out a 'very positive direction' that would result in greater diversity of language.

'Schools could be given space to set their own language policy for 25 per cent of classroom time,' Mr Yip said, adding that this would not be limited by students' academic ability. 'Certain subjects could be taught entirely in English in all schools.'

Mr Yip said the Education Bureau had stressed there needed to be an accountable mechanism for determining this language policy, but he understood that to mean there would need to be agreement between a school's parent association and board.

'Each school would need to decide what its particular language plan would be,' he said. 'As there will be more school places available than students to take them, parents will be able to vote with their feet for which they feel is the most appropriate mode.'

Mr Suen is investigating ways to fine-tune the medium of instruction policy ahead of new rules due to come into force next year, with a view to removing the rigid divide between schools that teach in English and those that teach in Chinese.

A final report is due to be released in the next few weeks, but Mr Suen has previously given tacit backing to allowing schools to stream students into English- or Chinese-medium classes by ability.

As they stand, the rules will require schools to have 85 per cent of their Form One intake in the top 40 per cent academically - the segment the bureau deems capable of learning in English - if they are to teach in English.

Mr Suen has said he is open to this rule being applied to individual classes rather than the whole school.

But in a statement released after yesterday's meeting, the bureau appeared to have relaxed its stance even further.

The statement said the bureau had 'further explored' with schools 'their suggestion that, on top of the recommendations, all schools should be allowed to adopt the English medium for individual subjects'.

Allowing students to study 'one to two subjects in English and so increase their exposure to the language' could be a 'positive driving force in their learning', it said.

However, it added that a 'credible quality assurance mechanism' would be needed to 'ensure that students' learning effectiveness will not be jeopardised'.

A bureau spokeswoman said one option would be to have schools' language policies vetted by a three-member team from the bureau, the school's management and an independent academic.

Education legislator Professional Teachers' Union president Cheung Man-kwong warned that falling student enrolments meant schools' priorities would be skewed by 'the need to fight for survival'.

Democratic Party vice-chairman Tik Chi-yuen said schools needed to be trusted to make the right decision for their students' best interests.