Education chief Michael Suen Ming-yeung admitted yesterday that allowing more schools to teach in English would not satisfy all parties but said the reform was being introduced 'for the biggest benefit of society'.
The new measures, described as 'fine-tuning' of the medium-of- instruction policy, prompted the executive committee of the Association of Hong Kong Chinese Middle Schools to resign en masse on Friday in protest. The group represents more than 190 schools and advocates mother-tongue teaching.
Speaking on an RTHK phone-in show, Mr Suen said the initiative was supported by most stakeholders in the education sector to improve the English proficiency of pupils entering secondary schools.
'Mother-tongue teaching in the past decade has been a success in engaging students to learn. The fine-tuning measures are now going to improve their English ability.
'Our policy cannot take care of all demands raised by every stakeholder. As the policymaker, we must see where the biggest social benefit lies and insist on our direction.'
The education chief said he hoped to meet representatives of the Association of Hong Kong Chinese Middle Schools in the coming days.
Under the new measures, schools can 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, starting with Form One in the 2010-11 academic year.
About 20 per cent of the 400-odd secondary schools in the city would be able to run some English-medium classes or teach some subjects in English.
The education secretary said schools would be allowed a certain amount of flexibility in implementing the measures.
'[In an English class,] teachers can still use Chinese to explain some complicated or abstract concepts with English textbooks. We have no problem with that,' he said.
Deputy education secretary Mabel Chan said the bureau understood that the new measures would add to the workloads of secondary schoolteachers and it would provide support to schools.
Workshops would be organised for teachers to share their experiences and about 70 schools, which admitted students of weaker language ability, would also be inspected annually, she said.