Panel slams 'fine-tuning' of language policy plan

PUBLISHED : Friday, 18 July, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 18 July, 2008, 12:00am

The education secretary came under fire from lawmakers yesterday over his plans to 'fine-tune' language policy, with one saying they could hit schools like an 'earthquake'.

Members at the Legislative Council education panel claimed the proposals were likely to increase competition between secondary schools and add to the strain on teachers, while doing little to improve students' English.

'A government should not change its education policy time and again,' said Liberal Party lawmaker Selina Chow Liang Shuk-yee. 'This is not fine-tuning - it is a retrogressive step and it is a dramatic policy change.'

Education Secretary Michael Suen Ming-yeung was reporting on the progress of his consultation to adjust the implementation of medium-of-instruction rules governing junior secondary schools, which are due to come into force next year. He aims to reduce the 'labelling effect' caused by a rigid distinction between English-medium schools and those that teach in Chinese.

Options include giving schools more flexibility to set language policy - such as streaming students by class or teaching certain subjects in English and Chinese. 'This is just fine-tuning. We are not going to abandon the mother-tongue education policy,' he said.

He stressed that no final decision had been made, as consultation was continuing.

Albert Chan Wai-yip of the League of Social Democrats said Mr Suen had failed to grasp the ramifications of his proposals. 'This is not fine-tuning. It will be an earthquake.'

The meeting heard submissions from 20 school associations, parents' groups and teaching unions. While a clear majority said they were in favour of the proposed adjustments in principle, there were concerns.

One was that allowing schools to have English and Chinese streams within a year group would put teachers under extra stress, as they would need to switch the language between classes and produce twice the teaching material. 'This would further undermine the policy of mother-tongue education,' said Yip Chee-tim, chairman of the Association of Hong Kong Chinese Middle Schools.

There were also fears raised that any change in policy would clash with the implementation of the senior secondary curriculum, which will come into effect for students entering Form Four in September next year.

'I cannot see that there is any consensus,' said The Frontier lawmaker Emily Lau Wai-hing.

The Education Bureau could not assume parents would choose schools based on sound educational principles, she said.

'Some parents are happy to have their children go to English-medium schools even if they are having difficulty learning there,' she said.

Democrat Yeung Sum said the education secretary was being too idealistic in thinking his plans would remove the stigma of teaching in Chinese. Mr Suen had not considered falling enrolments, which were due to drop dramatically for secondary schools over the next six years, he said.

'The realistic impact is that schools will try to increase the amount of English teaching out of fear of closure,' he said. 'Sometimes schools don't care how well students are learning. They only care how many they can recruit.'