PUBLISHED : Friday, 29 May, 2009, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 29 May, 2009, 12:00am

Don't derail mother-tongue policy reform with delaying tactics

We refer to your May 19 report on medium of instruction headlined 'Head of education panel urges rethink'.

Statistics, when interpreted impartially, can be informative and provide a sound quantitative basis for decision-making. On the other hand, the conclusions Michael Tien draws from his sponsored poll seem like a desperate last-minute attempt to block the much-needed reforms to the policies on mother-tongue education.

Mr Tien claims that only 29 per cent of parents surveyed support 'fine-tuning', but we know that only 18 per cent are against these changes. Exactly why they are against the proposed changes we are not told.

We are told that 55 per cent of parents claim to know 'quite little' or 'very little' about the proposed changes. The proposed changes are actually quite specific. But not being aware of the specific details does not mean that parents are either unaware of or do not support the broad principles underlying the 'fine-tuning'- greater exposure of students to English, more autonomy to schools to teach students according to their students' ability, the gradual elimination of divisive labeling of schools, etc. These are the principles parents are in favour of.

In July 2008, we commissioned University of Hong Kong Public Opinion Programme (the same that Mr Tien used) to rate the effectiveness of mother-tongue policy to date. The rating was 36.8 out of 100. While it was premature to draw definitive conclusions, the survey definitely suggested the possibility of widespread dissatisfaction.

Leaving statistics aside, we would like to ask why Mr Tien's poll has not addressed the critical issues that have been causing grave concern to parents and students alike. Instead of 'testing' parents' knowledge of the 'fine-tuning', surely it would have been more valuable to get more information from parents on the same three selected topics in his survey: namely, whether parents support the eradication of Chinese medium of instruction and English medium of instruction school labels; whether they support greater autonomy for schools to teach students according to their ability; and whether they support giving students freedom to choose their preferred MOI for a particular subject.

Hong Kong, as an international city - or Asia's World City as the government never stops reminding us - has to stay ahead in terms of English competency. English has been one of the foundations of our competitive advantage but the mother-tongue policy has been slowly eroding this foundation. Neither has it helped students in their higher education and career prospects. This is the recurrent nightmare of parents who feel powerless against blinkered officials determined to maintain an education system for the general population that is inferior to what their own children are enjoying overseas, at taxpayers' expense.

The formulation of our language policy would benefit more from learning from societies whose history, social and economic development, composition of citizenry and world position are similar to our own. This will give us the necessary basis on which to decide what our policy should be in relation to who we are, where we came from and where we want to go from here.

Can you imagine what Singapore would have been like if they had used Fukien or Chiu Chow as a platform for their language policy? Let our discussions be guided by the best practices and success stories of comparable societies. We have wasted enough time already.

Now that some sense is finally being applied to our mother-tongue policy, and more resources are going to be deployed in primary education to develop our students' bi-literate and trilingual proficiency from early years, let us not be derailed by delaying tactics.

Our reply to Mr Tien is brief: contribute what is important, relevant, and necessary. Or please step aside.


AD students should face reality 'and move on'

A survey reports (South China Morning Post, May 16) that a third of 516 Hong Kong University and Polytechnic University associate degree (AD) respondents regret studying for the award because employers rate it no more than A-level (AL) and there are only 1,927 UGC-funded places (an additional 90 in 2009-10) for over 25,000 graduating annually. The wider picture must be worse.

The implication is that AD students were misled. More accurately, there is clearly a mismatch between intention and outcome.

Perception is part of the problem. The huge government outlay in land and low-interest loans, massive expansion by major providers and euphemisms like 'a second chance', 'alternative pathways' and 'tertiary education' raised unreasonable expectations of unlimited subsidised places issuing diplomas and degrees recognised by employers. The reality is otherwise.

The AD is a preparatory programme exiting at undergraduate Year One level. Unlike A-level, which is a common curriculum examined by one authority, the quality of ADs varies widely. Subsidised university places will remain very small, so the majority of AD holders will have to look for jobs. But AD preparation for further education does not train for jobs. Technically, AD holders are not university graduates and most are untrained. Given the wide range in ability, starting point and the quality of ADs, the employer's reasonable reference is the AL, the only benchmarked award before a degree.

Other self-paying routes are local self-financed degrees, overseas degrees offered locally or study abroad. New private universities may eventually offer another outlet. AD graduates should face these realities and move on.


Creationism has no place in the science class

I have been following the ongoing debate on the teaching of science and creationism in Hong Kong with interest.

The teaching of intelligent design, now referred to as creationism, has no place in a classroom. We currently have no proof that an intelligent entity created the entire universe. The various arguments put forward by creationists to justify their belief are based on half-baked criticism of the well researched and proven theory of evolution. They provide no hard testable scientific evidence to support their claims. Creationism is therefore not a scientific theory at all.

If creationism is not science, should we be teaching it in a science class? I think not. Firstly, a science class is for teaching science and how science impinges on our daily lives. It is not in the business of giving religious beliefs air time. Secondly, there is no debate to be had, as creationism is not science. Thirdly, to accept creationism into the science class opens the doors to any religious idea independent of any scientific proof. Not only that but, whatever creationist story you choose, you run the risk of offending someone of a different faith. These three points alone should be sufficient to exclude creationism from a science class.