$1.1b bid to boost school language skills

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 06 December, 2005, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 06 December, 2005, 12:00am

Measures include $500,000 annual grants to Chinese-medium schools

The Education and Manpower Bureau yesterday unveiled a $1.1 billion scheme to boost language proficiency in secondary schools. It is part of the final report of the Education Commission's working group on medium of instruction for secondary schools and secondary schools places allocation.

Key to the scheme is a six-year plan to boost the standard of English teaching, particularly at Chinese-medium schools, and $200 million to promote teaching of Putonghua - from the next academic year at the earliest.

Chinese-medium secondary schools will be eligible for a $500,000 annual grant over six years. English counterparts will be eligible for one grant of $500,000.

The language issue has been the topic of heated public debate, but Secretary for Education and Manpower Arthur Li Kwok-cheung said he was satisfied with the proposals.

Working group chairman Michael Tien Puk-sun said the fund did not equate to throwing money at the problem, as schools would need to submit a detailed proposal on how the money would be used and what goals it would achieve.

'We don't want to see schools using this money just to hire some extra teachers so that they can introduce small-class teaching,' Mr Tien said. Schools would be reviewed at the end of the first three years and funding discontinued if they had failed to achieve targets.

To build a more conducive English-learning environment, Chinese-medium schools would be allowed to timetable additional classes in English. The limits would be set at 15, 20 and 25 per cent of total lesson time for Forms One, Two and Three respectively.

Mr Tien said guidelines on medium of instruction - to come into effect in September 2010 - had been one of the most difficult issues to resolve.

The report retains the highly contentious rule that 85 per cent of English-medium schools' students have to be in the top 40 per cent of the city's students for the school to be able to continue as an English-medium school.

Through-train schools - which are required to accept all students from their primary section regardless of their academic standards - were given a small reprieve. They will need to maintain only 75 per cent of their intake in the top bracket for students coming from their primary sections. But they will have to stick to the 85 per cent level for other admissions.

The deadline for schools with links to feeder primary schools to switch to the through-train model or sever their links has been extended until 2012.

Rosalind Chan Lo-sai, internal secretary of the English Medium Schools Association, said it was unfair that English-medium schools had significantly less funding. 'This is grossly unacceptable,' she said.