THE Education Department has fallen short on its recommendations for the primary school Chinese language programme, according to research done by Yew Chung Education Foundation. The department set guidelines for Chinese language teachers to help primary pupils to acquire a vocabulary of 2,600 Chinese characters in stages through their six years in school. However, many of those characters are found to be obsolete and at least one out of the 10 sets of Chinese textbooks recommended by the department teaches only 1,700 Chinese characters. Dr Lui Tsz-tak, Chinese curriculum development officer of the foundation, discovered the discrepancy in Education Department standard during a random examination of seven out of the 10 sets of books recommended by the department. 'It shows that the department isn't truly serious about how many characters students are actually learning,' Dr Lui said. He said language research conducted in China demonstrated that 'students knowing less than 2,000 characters can hardly read an article'. Dr Lui said the deteriorating standard among primary pupils was due to their limited vocabulary. 'Studies have shown that many senior primary students are becoming less and less motivated to learn Chinese, but not other subjects. 'This led us to conclude that they lack interest because they have not been making proper progress in the language, while progress is being made in other subjects,' said Dr Lui. The reason for such slow progress had to do with local schools' use of the traditional methodology of teaching students Chinese characters 'in stages'. Yew Chung experimented with an alternative initiated by mainland researchers - the 'intensified characters learning method' - two years ago. Primary One pupils were taught more than 300 words in only 10 weeks. Dr Lui said that instead of mastering 2,600 characters in six years, some of the best mainland students learnt 2,500 simplified characters (equivalent to a local set of 2,600 Chinese words) in merely two years. In the past year, Yew Chung has been doing research on their own Intensified Character Learning system, which adapts and revises the mainland vocabulary to suit local students.