The Education and Manpower Bureau is not doing enough to help ethnic minority and returnee students prepare for when Chinese becomes compulsory under the new senior secondary curriculum, a prominent principal said this week.
Veronica Ma Kit-ching, principal of Marymount Secondary School in Happy Valley, accused the EMB of failing to provide adequate transitionary measures for schools that have traditionally offered French as an alternative for non-Chinese-speaking students.
Chinese language is one of four core subjects students will be compelled to study when students currently in Form One reach Form Four. The other three subjects are English, maths and liberal studies.
Students will continue to be able to study French and other foreign languages, but only as an elective in addition to Chinese and English.
Ms Ma said her school, along with traditional elite schools La Salle College, St Mary's Cannossian College and St Joseph's College, had met with Deputy Secretary for Education and Manpower Chris Wardlaw but had not yet received a follow-up.
'I have been told over the phone that they are still discussing this matter but it is already three or four months,' Ms Ma said.
Some of the students from Chinese families would be able to cope with the Chinese curriculum but the majority of ethnic minorities students lacked the family support.
'These students can't follow the normal curriculum for native speakers,' she said. 'There needs to be a second curriculum.'
The EMB has consistently rejected calls for an alternative Chinese curriculum, despite pressure from ethnic minorities, concern groups and legislators.
The bureau maintains the standard curriculum is not designed specifically for native speakers and can be adapted for individual students' needs.
Ms Ma said it was unfair for the change to be sprung on students only once they reached secondary school.
'No matter whether they are Chinese, non-Chinese-speaking or ethnic minorities, they should be told from the start, when they enter primary school,' she said. 'It should not be our responsibility to tell the parents. The EMB should be informing people they have this policy. Many people are not aware of this problem.'
However, Mr Wardlaw said the bureau had been maintaining a dialogue with the schools and he was due to meet them again next week.
'Essentially it is a transitional issue,' he said. 'I think the schools genuinely know they need to make some arrangements to help these students learn Chinese.'
But he stressed that schools with a tradition of offering French as an alternative to Chinese would not be forced to change 'abruptly'.
'It will happen over time,' he said. 'We can't expect them to change overnight.'