Schools' bilingualism could be catching

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 07 February, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 07 February, 2012, 12:00am


Bilingualism in Hong Kong has remained an elusive goal. It is like soccer here: everyone loves the sport, yet our local leagues are dismal and getting worse. There are, of course, some exceptions but they only prove the rule. And that was why I wanted to talk to Nelly Fung, and to know the secret of her success.

It's difficult to pigeonhole Fung. She is not really a professional educator, but she is surely one of the most influential people in local education. She co-founded not one but two of the city's most successful and sought-after non-profit schools: the Chinese International School and the Independent Schools Foundation Academy. Though the CIS is called an international school, Chinese is core to its teaching; likewise, at the ISF. Their common features are: small classes, native English-speaking and Chinese-speaking teachers, and a mix of Chinese culture and an international outlook.

Since they charge high tuition fees, most families who send their children there are upper-middle class, so most parents are well-educated and bilingual. I got upset about the social inequality. Why should the government grant land to the ISF when it could set up a similar, experimental public school for free, so any parent could send their children there? Surprisingly, Fung agrees with me.

We both asked: why should only the well-off get first-class education in Hong Kong when the government is already spending so much money on free public education?

Fung has been involved in a worthy campaign for a law ensuring the city's public records are properly archived, but her experience would be more valuably used campaigning for true bilingual teaching in all local schools.

The ISF and CIS are the consequences of our failures at bilingualism. The local system is sick; a powerful dose of bilingualism needs to be administered, from school to school, one at a time.