English tests for trainee teachers
The Institute of Education, which specialises in training teachers, is fighting back against the declining level of English literacy by making all students take an internationally recognised examination.
Students will not be prevented from graduating if they fail to achieve a 6.0 grade (on a 9-point scale) in the International English Language Testing System (IELTS) exam - equivalent to the level most universities in the English-speaking world require of new undergraduates.
But the institute, which is striving to become a university, hopes making future teachers take the exam will change their perception of learning English.
Its senior management say the HKIEd is a pioneer among the city's higher-education institutions in using international exams to provide a benchmark for students' command of English
'We are doing it to show our commitment to society,' said Joanne Chung Wai Yee, the HKIEd's associate vice-president. She said students who failed to score a grade of 6 would still be allowed to graduate, but it would be reflected on their transcript. Students majoring in English-language education will need a grade of 7 to graduate.
Professor David Li Chor-shing, the head of the HKIEd's centre for language in education, said he hoped the mandatory tests could fundamentally change students' perceptions about learning English.
Edwin Poon Hing-fai, a secondary school principal who had hired HKIEd graduates, said the new benchmarks would help potential employers judge the language ability of the new teachers.
A survey by the University Grants Committee found that HKIEd students who took the IELTS exam typically scored slightly lower than those studying at other government-funded institutions, averaging a grade of 6.36 on the nine-point scale, against an average of 6.69.
Ada Li, head of the centre for language and communication at the Hong Kong College of Technology, said an IELTS grade of 6 matched the entry requirement for many overseas universities. 'This is a relatively low requirement,' she said.
A grade of 6 indicates that the person is capable of basic daily communications. The HKIEd will subsidise students' first attempt at the paper and students will also take a Putonghua exam.
Hong Kong teachers have been criticised for their declining language standards, especially in English, as the language has been falling out of favour with young learners.
Just 37 per cent of teachers who took the Language Proficiency Assessment for Teachers reached the required level 3 in writing tests last year, compared to 42.7 per cent in 2010 and 46.2 per cent in 2009.
And only 50 per cent passed the speech test, while 80 per cent passed the listening and reading test.
Putonghua has surpassed English as the city's second most widely spoken language, as it is spoken by 48 per cent of residents, against 46 per cent for English. That is according to figures released last month by the Census Department.
The percentage of local primary school teachers who are HKIEd graduates. The figure for secondary school teachers is 30 per cent