Long-awaited adjustments to the medium-of-instruction policy have been completed and details will be made public on Friday, according to a government source.
The changes will end strict segregation of schools into Chinese and English streams and allow Chinese-medium schools to set aside a quarter of their lesson time for 'extended learning activities conducted in English'.
Educators have been critical of the reform plan - described as 'fine-tuning' of the policy - since it was unveiled by Secretary for Education Michael Suen Ming-yeung last June. Critics have said the plan would water down the mother-tongue policy and worsen the stigma attached to students who learn in Chinese.
The source said Mr Suen had consulted all the stakeholders over the past year to help them understand the details and rationale of the changes.
When the policy takes effect in September next year, all schools will be free to teach a class in English if 85 per cent of students in the class are in the top 40 per cent of their age group academically.
Mr Suen estimated earlier that up to 80 schools currently using Chinese as their medium of instruction would be allowed to teach in English when the changes take took effect.
Calling the plan 'an irresponsible policy', education lawmaker Cheung Man-kwong said the 'benefits of the scheme would not be enough to make up for what would be lost'.
'The policy allows students from band two or three schools to study certain subjects like mathematics and science in English. Such students do not possess the ability to learn in English. Not only will their understanding of the subject be compromised, their English standards might also not show any improvement.
'By implementing this policy, the government is boosting English learning at the expense of students' understanding of knowledge,' Mr Cheung said.
Liu Ah-chuen, chairman of Hong Kong Subsidised Secondary Schools Council, which represents 350 government-aided schools, said most schools supported the policy. 'Citing concerns that the policy would water down mother-tongue teaching, only 30 per cent of schools object to it,' he said. 'Most schools welcome the flexibility afforded by the scheme.'
Mr Liu appealed to schools to be responsible in setting language policies. 'Instead of competing to offer as many English classes as possible, they should take into account students' ability and needs.'