Medium change suggested when students turn eight

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 03 July, 1994, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 03 July, 1994, 12:00am

SCHOOLCHILDREN may be taught only in their mother tongue until they are aged eight, according to the recommendations of an Education Commission report due to be published next week, the Sunday Morning Post can reveal.

The recommendations, which will be presented to the Government later in the year, are the result of a week-long visit to The Netherlands and Belgium by members of the Education Commission, including its chairman, Professor Rosie Young.

One of the main aims of the visit was to study how other education systems tackled language proficiency, one of the chief concerns of educationists in the territory.

''We chose these countries because they're non-English speaking countries. Both have multi-lingual and multi-racial education and therefore they are somewhat akin to Hong Kong,'' Professor Young said.

''They are also similar in that they are relatively small countries with neighbouring countries speaking different languages. This means you have to learn more than one language,'' she added.

Yesterday, she said the most important recommendation of the Working Group on Language Proficiency Report, due to be published on July 11, concerned the age at which a second language should be introduced.

''Belgium has a Dutch community and a French community. We talked to schools to find out how their primary students learned their mother tongue,'' she said.

''What we found is that they teach in mother tongue and gradually introduce a second language after age eight, then a third after 12.'' The result was that most people there could handle two languages quite fluently, she added.

''This is one of the modalities we propose. I think this is the most important recommendation because many schools try to introduce English from Primary One onwards. We feel this should be an alternative method for Hong Kong depending on the school's size, the training of the teachers and so on.'' But she said that class sizes, a major factor in language teaching, tended to be smaller in the European countries. ''They teach language in a very active way. They also have a high staff-student ratio and that's why it's quite an expensive form of education,'' she said.

''These countries spend much more money on education, for example on language proficiency. We did find, however, that education standards in Hong Kong are very good compared with many countries.'' The Education Commission delegation was also looking at school quality issues and funding procedures. Working groups on both issues will publish reports later in the year.

According to Professor Young, as part of the Education Commission's attempts at greater openness, the three reports would first go to the public for discussion.

''The finalised report will go to the full commission,'' she said.