Educator stuck to his guns on language ideals
David Cheung spent his classroom years advocating teaching in the mother tongue, then took his expertise into politics and religion
Reverend David Cheung Chi-kong
Reverend David Cheung Chi-kong, a staunch advocate of mother-tongue education in Hong Kong, a well-respected educator, and a former lawmaker died last month at the age of 77.
Cheung, founding principal of Carmel Secondary School, took a bold move in 1988 when his school became the first English-medium school to switch to teaching in Cantonese.
He later became a missionary in Europe and after retiring moved to the United States.
He had been suffering from undisclosed chronic illness, and died on September 16 with his family around him.
A memorial service will be held at the Ho Man Tin school on Sunday, and there will also be an exhibition about Cheung's life.
Education sector lawmaker Ip Kin-yuen called Cheung a brave educator who stood firm, against all odds, on his belief that mother-tongue teaching was the best for pupils.
"In advocating for mother-tongue education, he achieved the spirit of putting education principles first," Ip said.
Many schools wanted to boost their popularity by branding themselves as English-medium schools and Cheung's persistence in mother-tongue teaching provoked discussion in society, he added.
But the educator faced strong opposition from unconvinced parents and teachers and the school switched back to teaching in English a year later, in 1989.
Cheung served as the school's principal from the 1960s to 1990, when he became principal of Pui Ching Middle School, a reputable Cantonese-medium school.
He served as a legislator from 1988 to 1991 and was a member of the education commission. He became a missionary in 1991 and later became president of the Christian Witness Theological Seminary in Concord, California.
Speaking to the South China Morning Post in 2009 on the teaching medium fine-tuning policy, which allowed Cantonese-medium schools to run classes in English, he said the policy change would do a disservice to pupils' learning.
"It doesn't make sense to allow students whose proficiency in English is inadequate to learn certain subjects in English," he said.
Esther Ho Yuk-fan, vice-principal of Carmel Secondary School and one of Cheung's pupils in the 1980s, said he was always passionate in sharing his philosophy on life and educational beliefs.
"He still insisted on teaching the ethics lessons for all Form Six and Seven classes, although he was very busy with his various positions at the time," she said.
After he left Hong Kong, Cheung returned from time to time to take part in teachers' training. Ho had the chance to chat with him two years ago.
"He encouraged me a lot, she said. "There are times that we teachers would be demoralised and he affirmed our mission."