Education chief defends changes in school language policy

PUBLISHED : Monday, 12 January, 2009, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 12 January, 2009, 12:00am

The education minister has defended much-criticised revisions to the medium-of-instruction policy, saying critics should not over-exaggerate the difficulties.

Secretary for Education Michael Suen Ming-yeung also maintained yesterday that adopting Chinese as the medium of instruction was the right direction, despite the revisions that seek to brush up students' English proficiency by allowing schools more flexibility to have some classes conducted in English.

'We want to ensure that every child in Hong Kong is equally proficient in Chinese and English,' Mr Suen said. 'So, while we think the best way to do it is mother-tongue teaching, at the same time we want to expose [students] to more English so that at school they are not afraid to speak English.'

He appreciated the possible difficulties that might be encountered but said the government would not be sidetracked. 'We should not exaggerate the difficulties, as if these were what we should address.'

The debate over mother-tongue teaching was revived last week when the government announced that schools would be allowed to decide their medium of instruction based on the ability of their students.

The revised policy is also seen to be seeking to blur the distinction between English-medium and Chinese-medium schools. The latter are often seen by parents as inferior.

Schools were free to choose their language of instruction until after the handover in 1997 when the government largely enforced mother-tongue education and required teachers at a school to meet certain criteria before they would be permitted to conduct lessons in English.

At the RTHK City Forum, Wong Wai-yu, chairman of the Hong Kong Association of Heads of Secondary Schools, said he doubted the revised policy could benefit students.

'This year, a student may be found to be good enough to be allocated to an English-medium class. But the following year, he might not be good enough and has to be moved to a Chinese-medium class. It only makes it more difficult for a student to adapt,' Mr Wong said.

Another speaker at the forum, Yip Chee-tim, chairman of the Association of Hong Kong Chinese Middle Schools, also feared that students who could not get into English-medium classes could be viewed as inferior by outsiders.