Having Putonghua as medium of instruction in Hong Kong schools can cause problems

PUBLISHED : Friday, 18 August, 2017, 5:19pm
UPDATED : Friday, 18 August, 2017, 8:59pm

George Tsang, in his letter (“Time to change Hong Kong’s language policy so city can succeed”, August 5), discusses language policy in education after the handover. One issue he looked at was the spending of large sums of money by the government on teaching Chinese language in Putonghua in schools.

This is a controversial topic – whether Putonghua should be the medium of instruction (MOI) for teaching Chinese language. While I agree that Hong Kong students should have a good command of Putonghua, I believe that using it as the MOI for the subject of Chinese language does more harm than good.

The Standing Committee on Language Education and Research allocated HK$200 million in 2008 to assist primary and secondary schools to use Putonghua to teach Chinese language. The Education Bureau claims that using it in this way can improve students’ proficiency in Putonghua. But while students will speak better Putonghua, their Cantonese proficiency declines. Since Putonghua and Cantonese have different lexicons, some students mix them up and use the Putonghua ones in Cantonese.

Also, despite the fact that some primary and secondary schools will teach Chinese in Putonghua, most of them are reluctant to risk their students’ results and teach Chinese in Putonghua in senior forms. So, a lot of students who learn Chinese in Putonghua in primary schools and junior forms must suddenly switch back to Cantonese in senior forms. The government must be aware of the problems this creates.

Currently, there is no research which shows that students who learn Chinese in Putonghua outperform their counterparts who learn it in Cantonese. If it cannot enhance students’ Chinese skills, there is no point in the government promoting Putonghua as the medium of instruction.

As a Chinese, I believe students should learn Putonghua in order to grasp the opportunities brought by the rapid development of our motherland. However, I don’t think the way to do that is to use it as the medium of instruction for the Chinese language subject. If the government wants to strengthen students’ learning of Putonghua, shouldn’t it reform and improve the curriculum of Putonghua education?

Many schools still lack the resources and qualified teachers needed to teach Putonghua. The government should introduce more effective teaching resources, for example textbooks, Powerpoint slides, and online material for students, and investigate the possibility of having mainland teachers, whose mother tongue is Putonghua, to help our Hong Kong students speak good Putonghua.

Anson C. Y. Chan, North Point