Stress on writing hinders reading
Kindergartens put too much emphasis on writing when they teach Chinese characters, leading to mediocre results in the more important skill of reading, a study has found.
University of Hong Kong researchers said children should learn to recognise characters before they learned to write them, which would help them with their reading at an earlier stage.
Study leader Professor Tse Shek-kam suggested that the Education Bureau design a new syllabus for teaching Chinese characters and provide more training for teachers.
'Many teachers think knowing how to write Chinese characters is the first step to knowing Chinese characters in general. That's wrong. It's only that characters that have more strokes are harder to write. It doesn't mean they are harder to recognise,' he said. 'In fact ... many characters with fewer strokes have meanings that are more complex and harder for schoolchildren to grasp.'
The study also found that despite growing numbers of non-Chinese minorities enrolling in local kindergartens - seen as an effort to give them language skills that would bring better opportunities later in life - they still fell behind in Chinese because the language was not used at home.
The project, paid for by the government's Quality Education Fund, was conducted in July to assess the standard of learning and teaching Chinese characters across the city's kindergartens.
Tse said about 390, or 42 per cent, of the 928 kindergartens responded to the study's questionnaires, making it a representative sample.
A big majority of kindergartens adopted what he called an integrated approach to teaching Chinese characters. About 87 per cent of them followed themes - for example types of fruit, introducing Chinese characters as they went along.
Just two per cent of the kindergartens had specific classes for Chinese characters.
'The current integrated method lacks systematic teaching of Chinese characters, which explains why many teachers think children's reading ability is lower than it should be,' he said.
Two-thirds of teachers said that when teaching children to recognise characters, those with fewer strokes should be taught first.
And, 95 per cent of the teachers said those characters should also be the first characters taught in writing classes.
The number of non-Chinese-speaking kindergarten children has risen to about 11,190 last year from 9,242 in 2007.
Most are of Pakistani, Indian or Nepalese ethnicity.
About two-thirds of teachers polled said they thought such children's Chinese reading ability was lower than expected, and about half of them said the same about their speaking ability.
'It's been said that since they started in 2007 to go to the same kindergartens as Chinese children, their Chinese language reading and speaking abilities should be comparable. But, it's not the case, because they don't use the language at home,' Tse said.
The share of teachers surveyed who did not think recognition and writing of Chinese characters should be taught separately