Language policy 'will worsen labelling'

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

A major schools association this week hit out at the Education Bureau's plans for 'fine-tuning' the medium-of-instruction policy, saying the proposals would worsen the labelling effect they were intended to counter.

The Association of Hong Kong Chinese Middle Schools, which represents 190 schools, issued a statement on Wednesday condemning the long-awaited changes, in particular the suggestion that schools could stream students into English or Chinese classes according to ability.

'The 'fine-tuning' which the government is currently proposing ... we consider to be a massive change. This change not only will not be able to lessen the labelling that currently exists between schools, it will strengthen it and will even broaden the labelling effect to between classes within schools,' the association said in its statement.

Association chairman Yip Chee-tim said the position statement was the result of 'many months' of discussion with the bureau and had been released due to the 'deep and wide' impact of the medium-of-instruction policy.

The bureau has been reviewing the policy since last November, when Education Secretary Michael Suen Ming-yeung opened the door to flexibility in the implementation of new rules - originally scheduled for 2010.

The medium-of-instruction rules govern what language schools can teach in for the first three years of secondary school. Under the mother-tongue education policy, introduced in 1998, schools are strictly segregated into either English- or Chinese-medium.

Earlier this year, Mr Suen promised to release the revised proposals before the summer break. However, that date was later abandoned and the final report is now expected by the end of the year.

Speaking at an event to celebrate the 10th anniversary of the Native English-speaking Teachers scheme on Saturday, Mr Suen said the report would be released 'later' as the bureau still needed to talk with stakeholders.

'Various stakeholders have different demands and sometimes their demands are not consistent with one another. We are currently looking at how to balance their demands,' he said. 'We hope [to have the report ready] by about the end of the year.'

Possible measures on the table include allowing schools to run both English-medium and Chinese-medium classes and splitting students according to their academic performance. Schools may also be allowed to teach some subjects in English and others in Chinese, irrespective of their students' language ability.

But the Chinese middle schools association said it believed mother-tongue teaching was the most effective approach to education and worried that the proposed measures could result in a dilution of the definition of an English-medium school.

'We believe that for a school to advertise itself as an English-medium school, it should meet all the Education Bureau's three requirements in terms of student ability, teachers' requirements and school support measures,' its statement said. 'It should also be regulated so that all subjects, including arts subjects, must be taught in English [for a school to claim it is English-medium].'

However, the association said it supported the proposal to allow Chinese-medium schools to teach 25 per cent of classes in English to increase students' exposure to the language.

'But we believe this would require a substantial period of time to allow teachers to prepare properly,' the statement said.

A bureau spokeswoman said the government was well aware of the association's concerns and that negotiations were continuing.

'In more than a year's discussions, the majority of stakeholders agree that, after the fine-tuning of the medium-of-instruction policy, we will need to maintain communication and a dialogue with the education sector,' she said.

The aim of the policy adjustment was to allow schools more flexibility to improve preparations for learning in English in senior secondary according to the needs of their student body, she said.