ESF debates compulsory Putonghua lessons

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 19 February, 2009, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 19 February, 2009, 12:00am

Leaders of the English Schools Foundation are considering making Chinese language a compulsory subject at the secondary level after rolling out daily lessons across all primary schools.

Daily Putonghua classes for all students from Year Four to Year Six were introduced across ESF primary schools last year following successful pilot programmes in three schools.

'We are looking at secondary at the moment,' ESF chief executive Heather Du Quesnay said yesterday. 'There is a debate going on ... I think that will be very much a decision that will be made at school level.

'We are trying to get the balance right. We have got to be respectful of the fact that we are in China and that people living here will need to speak the local language. If they want to make a career in Asia they will need Putonghua at the functional level.

'We are determined to make that available to those who want it. But we are trying to build in a capacity at secondary schools for children who are not interested in Chinese or who are not able to learn it.'

An ESF spokesman said compulsory daily Putonghua classes would be extended to students in Year Two and Year Three at the pilot primary schools, which included Kowloon Junior and Beacon Hill, in the next school year.

Stephen Fong Keng-kong, chairman of the South Island School Parent Teacher Association, said it was helping to set up meetings for parents to discuss making Putonghua a compulsory subject in the senior years.

'We are evaluating it right now but there is strong support at South Island School for making it compulsory. Giving our kids the ability to master a second language is going to put them in better stead for their future,' he said.

But Albert Yeung, a parent representative on the ESF's new governing board, said: 'I don't think the ESF should make Chinese compulsory. A student can be admitted to the University of Hong Kong without Chinese, so I think that languages should be left as a matter of choice for the parents and the students.'

A parent of two boys at Kennedy School said it launched daily Putonghua classes in Year One and Year Four classes during the last autumn term. The older boy had been receiving weekly classes for two years.

'I think it's a foolish thing to do,' he said. 'I wouldn't mind if I felt it would actually make a difference. However, it is noticeable that our kids, after some years of regular Mandarin at Kennedy, still don't know any more than five or six words.'