Principals join hands to decry MOI plan

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 14 March, 2009, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 14 March, 2009, 12:00am

More than 80 principals have placed an advertisement in a local newspaper condemning the 'fine-tuning' of language policy by Education Secretary Michael Suen Ming-yeung.

The letter, signed by 81 principals from Chinese- and English-medium schools, hit out at Education Bureau restrictions that allow only the top 40 per cent of students to be taught in English, describing the policy as 'crushing the self-image of the remaining 60 per cent of students'.

While the plan will remove the segregation of local schools into Chinese and English streams, the letter accused it of replacing the division with more severe forms of labelling. In the place of the current tags of CMI and EMI, schools would be classified according to the number of English classes each offered, it said.

The letter predicted the new policy would lead to intense competition among schools to offer English classes and deal a severe blow to the ideals of all-round education.

Principal of Ying Wa Girls' School, Shek Yuk-yu, who was a member of the 2005 Committee on Review of Medium of Instruction for Secondary Schools and Secondary School Places Allocation, was one of the letter's signatories.

'While it can solve certain problems, the fine-tuning proposal will lead to more undesirable ones,' she said. 'The current proposal, where schools are allowed to offer different numbers of English classes, is a topic we delved into in 2005. After careful consideration we concluded then that it would lead to within-school labelling and chaos.'

Another signatory, Ng Tze-ka, principal of CMA Choi Cheung Kok Secondary school, said there would be vicious competition among schools. 'Everybody will race to offer as many English classes as possible,' he said.

'This is very bad for educational ecology as a whole. Strengthening students' English proficiency should be done through boosting the teaching of the subject itself, not increasing students' exposure to the language in non-language lessons.'

Principal of Lee Kau Yan Memorial School, Jonathan Lai Ping-wah, who also signed the letter, said he and his staff were disappointed by the policy. 'The new proposal is solely a political decision,' he said.

In a public forum attended by about 300 students, teachers and parents on Thursday, participants voiced a host of concerns, ranging from teachers' workloads to how parents could choose schools.

In response to the letter, a government source dismissed the accusations as unfounded, saying they were the result of the principals not understanding the details of the policy.

Mr Suen further reassured forum participants that schools would be given 'professional self-autonomy' in deciding their language policies.

'We will allow teachers to use their professional judgment to decide which language to use.'

Despite widespread discontent about the policy, Mr Suen said the consultation period would end soon.

'We have already consulted various sectors for over a year. The consultations are in the last stage now. The plan will go to the Executive Council around April and May, and will be implemented in 2010.'

Wong Po-choi, chairman of the Committee on Home-School Co-operation, said how parents viewed the fine-tuning policy would be key to the plan's success.

'Parents should not be so ignorant as to regard a school offering everything in English as top-rate.

'We have to believe in the professional judgment of schools, which will set their language policies based on the needs and abilities of students. There should only be a maximum of one or two English classes in Form One. If schools choose not to switch to English at all, they should be allowed to maintain mother-tongue teaching [and not be forced by parents to switch],' Mr Wong said.

The interim proposals for fine- tuning were released last June. Under the proposal, any class with 85 per cent of students in the top 40 per cent academically on entry to Form One could be taught in English. Other classes would be taught in Chinese but up to 25 per cent of class time could be used for 'extended learning activities conducted in English'.