Many students just stop communicating
Several correspondents voiced their accord with Albert Cheng King-hon's harangue to Hong Kong language learners ('To learn English, get over the fear of using it', September 1) as well as suggesting that teachers 'organise more activities for their students', and that learners 'put themselves in situations where they have to write it ... and speak it'.
By focusing on mere externals, they may have missed the central point Mr Cheng was trying to make, but only after he spent most of his time criticising students' efforts. In so doing, his article serves as a perfect example of the internal psychological devastation that makes many students just give up, shut down and stop communicating: fear of criticism and humiliation from those around them.
More productively, perhaps a few questions regarding the classroom environment itself might be raised by parents to instructors, panel heads and administrators at all levels:
How are students treated immediately after - if not during - their mistakes in each of the four linguistic skills?
Are countless hours wasted filling student essays and worksheets with rivers of red ink, when in class peer-editing techniques or user-friendly online spelling and grammar checks could be utilised more effectively?
Are students publicly corrected and embarrassed for a listening error or mispronunciation?
Are only the best students in the front of the room focused on, leaving those who struggle in the back rows to fend for themselves?
Do teachers engage in real open-ended dialogue with students or merely drill questions in talking head fashion, expecting only the one 'correct answer'?
I [as a native English-speaking, NET, teacher] have shared stories and laughter with my students of my own linguistic mistakes - like the time in graduate school when I walked into a Parisian patisserie and asked for 400kg of petits fours instead of 400 grams. The vendor asked me where my truck was parked. I also explain to them that the mistakes they make out in the so-called real world will not be criticised or mocked, especially by native speakers.
In future, perhaps Mr Cheng would do well to remember that in the world of education, it is always better to light one little candle, than to curse the darkness.
Craig B. McKee, NET teacher, world language department, G. T. (Ellen Yeung) College
Pupils need smaller classes
I am concerned that education minister Michael Suen Ming-yeung emphasises the cost of implementing small-class teaching, instead of talking about providing high-quality education.
Surely his priority should be what is best for students, the young people who are our future.
I am not saying the cost issue is not important; it is. But at the same time, officials should be focusing on the long-term benefits in an education system. Financial outlays can be recovered over time.
The birth rate has been decreasing in many developed countries and some like Japan have responded by introducing smaller classes. Students are more actively involved in class and teachers can spend more time with individual pupils.
I really hope Mr Suen will think again about the benefits of small-class teaching.
Cherry Chan Sin-yu, Yau Tong
Lighten load of school bags
Overweight school bags are harming students. Something must be done to deal with this problem.
Although there are plans for the use of more electronic books at schools, there are budgeting problems, because they are still expensive.
Parents and schools should work together to try and deal with the problem of heavy bags.
One solution would be a better-planned daily timetable so they do not have too many subjects. Teachers should try and ensure that students will not need to bring a lot of heavy textbooks to school.
Parents should also help their children to pack their own bags properly rather than doing it on their behalf.
It should be possible to ensure that school bags are not too heavy and do not pose a health risk to children.
Rose Kong, Kwung Tong
Crack down on cyber bullies
With the increasing popularity of social networking websites like Facebook and Twitter, young people face a growing threat from cyber bullies.
Lectures should be held in schools to teach young people how to deal with interpersonal conflicts.
Classmates must be encouraged to communicate with each other and clear up any misunderstandings. Students should also be made aware of the consequences of cyber bullying. There are cases of victims having taken their own lives. If more young people become aware of this, it may deter them from becoming involved in bullying on the internet.
Schools need to co-ordinate with social workers.
Sometimes the bullies themselves may need help. They may come from a family with serious problems that must be addressed.
Teenagers are the future pillars of society. Prompt action must be taken to solve the problem of cyber bullying.
Jennifer Lam Nga-ching, Lam Tin
Speed limits a basic element
In his letter ('Road safety a priority for police chief', September 15), Chief Superintendent Li Kin-fai, defends the record of the police when it comes to making Hong Kong's roads safe.
In his letter he refers to the 'multi-agency approach' employed by the police.
While this sounds impressive, I would like to ask the chief superintendent what the policy is on something as simple as posting speed limits on our roads.
Should this not be a basic element of the 'multi-agency approach'?
Brian Thompson, Clear Water Bay
Campaigner must be freed
I hope the mainland authorities will release Aids activist Tian Xi .
He was jailed after losing his temper with a hospital administrator at the hospital where he was infected with HIV during a blood transfusion in 1996. He was infected through no fault of his own.
I accept he did get angry and smash equipment, but he was frustrated and rightly so.
He is trying to protect himself and resolve his case.
I believe that he should be compensated by the hospital involved.
He should be able to discuss his case at the Xincai County No 1 People's Hospital, instead of the hospital chief saying there was nothing he could do.
He certainly should not be criticised for campaigning for those who have contracted HIV through tainted blood supplies.
Blood that is donated should be tested for HIV before being administered to patients.
I am sure that he regrets smashing the equipment.
He must be let out of jail and allowed to campaign in a calm manner.
Michele Kalish, The Peak
Card abuse leads to debt
Hongkongers are becoming increasingly reliant on credit cards.
Some apply for a number of cards and find themselves in debt and having to make repayments at high rates of interest.
This trend is caused by our modern lifestyle which encourages people to spend and emphasises the importance of personal comfort.
Many consumers lack self-control and use these cards even when they do not have enough money.
The credit card companies must also take some responsibility as they are constantly trying to tempt people to sign up.
Their cards encourage people to spend more with the offer of free gifts and discounts in certain stores.
Also, interest rates can fluctuate which makes it difficult for cardholders to work out how much to repay.
Youngsters are particularly vulnerable to the lure of plastic, because they are attracted to the materialistic lifestyle.
We must look at the root of the problem, the misconceptions young people have about financial management.
Many teenagers are spoiled by their parents and feel they can ask for money whenever they want.
If this attitude is not corrected then they could become slaves to credit cards.
Therefore, schools should introduce classes that teach the basics of sound financial management. Students need to learn about the importance of saving and of showing self-restraint.
Card companies should raise the threshold for potential customers.
Mandy Ip, Tsuen Wan
Slaves to the fashion trends
I was recently in a restaurant in Causeway Bay.
At the table next to mine sat two middle-aged ladies.
They were wearing a lot of make-up, had dyed their hair and had with them some brand-name accessories.
I looked at them and thought if only they realised how beautiful they would look without all that heavy make-up and their unnatural hair-dos.
I understand that Asian women like to keep up with latest fashions, but some of them go too far.
I would like to see a change in attitude. Women should make wiser choices when thinking about what to wear.
They can look elegant without trying to copy Hollywood celebrities.
Jui Tang, Mid-Levels