New teachers will have to meet benchmark standards in English, Cantonese and Putonghua from 1999 before being allowed to take up employment. More than 20,000 teachers, mainly in primary and junior secondary schools, will also be tested. Those who fail to reach the benchmark could lose their jobs, in a move aimed at improving language teaching. The Secretary for Education and Manpower, Joseph Wong Wing-ping, announced yesterday that the Government planned to spend $15 million in the new financial year on a pilot exercise to establish language-teaching standards. Some 1,200 teachers face tests - among them teachers of Putonghua, those who use Cantonese in primary schools, or English teachers for forms one to three. Language benchmarks will be set by next year, based on the results. Mr Wong said: 'The exercise is one of the initiatives taken by the Government to enhance the language standards and professionalism of teachers and, in turn, the quality of teaching and learning in schools. 'All serving teachers should also meet the benchmarks. Training will be given to them. If they fail to meet the benchmarks after a certain period of time, say 10 years, they may no longer be allowed to work in the field.' Teachers will be tested on their writing, reading, listening and oral skills. Language performance in the classroom will also be assessed. The Education Department will oversee the language performance study this year, and the Examinations Authority will administer the written and oral assessments to be held before summer next year. Professor Felice Lieh Mak, chairman of the Advisory Committee on Teacher Education and Qualifications, welcomed the exercise. She said it would raise the language standards both of teachers and of students. Her committee would advise on the timetable for implementation and teachers' qualifications to see whether some would be exempt. English teacher Pauline Chow Lo-sai said she supported the scheme although it would bring extra pressure. She called for clear examination specifications to allow teachers to be prepared. Legislator Cheung Man-kwong, president of the Professional Teachers' Union, was angry that serving teachers would be included. Testing qualified teacher graduates would 'disqualify the existing teaching-training mechanism'. He asked whether other professionals such as doctors and lawyers would be required to undergo similar re-testing.