A PILOT scheme to teach simplified Chinese characters in schools will be introduced next September to extend students' reading materials to mainland publications. The Education Department is working on a teaching kit for senior secondary students in Form Four and above. The plan matches the Hong Kong Examinations Authority's decision last week to accept the use of simplified Chinese characters in future public exams. The teaching kit will be distributed to all 400 secondary schools after a trial run. Senior Curriculum Officer Cheng Man-leung said schools would be free to choose whether to teach such characters. 'Many secondary students need to read mainland publications as reference material and may even need to pursue their studies in China in future,' he said. 'Our move is not prompted by the 1997 factor but by a practical need. We want to provide a proper learning channel for students.' The Examinations Authority will use the 1986 official mainland version of simplified characters. The Education Department is also expected to adopt this version in the pilot scheme. The official chart spells out more than 2,000 simplified characters first promoted in China in the 1950s with the aim of reforming the script and increasing literacy by making it easier for people to learn. The kit will provide materials and guidelines on how to teach the characters. A lecturer at Baptist University's Language Centre, Fan Kwok, said accepting simplified Chinese characters in public exams must be carried out on the basis that students were first given tuition on how to write these characters. He said while it would be increasingly common for students to use both simplified and traditional characters, such a mixture should only be allowed in notes or exams but not in formal documents. Mr Fan said the teaching of simplified characters could be deferred until matriculation level. Our graphic, left, shows the characters for complex, simple and China.