It is as if the Education Department is determined to do all it can to make mother-tongue teaching as unpopular as possible. That is the conclusion to be drawn from the news that up to a third of the Primary Six pupils whom the department's criteria show are capable of learning in English will not be able to do so this autumn - because there are not enough places for them at the 114 secondary schools which will still be teaching in English. Even many pupils who do secure places in these schools will face unnecessarily long daily travel because of an uneven distribution; there are no English-medium schools on the outlying islands and few in many parts of the New Territories. Some parents are even talking about moving their homes to improve their children's chances of getting into one of the 114 schools. This is not a problem which should have come as a surprise. The Education Department has known for a long time that 40 per cent of Primary Six pupils were capable of being taught in English. It was certainly well aware of this long before the recent emotive decisions on which schools should be forced to switch to mother-tongue education. Incredibly, it does not seem to have occurred to the Government that it would be commonsense to try to match the number of schools allowed to continue teaching in English to the number of pupils able to learn in the language. Rather than rejecting appeals from those schools which desperately wanted to continue teaching in English, it would have made more sense to pump extra resources into upgrading the standard of their language instruction in order to meet a demand that clearly exists. The Education Department argues that this shortage of places will cause no harm since those capable of learning in English are equally capable of studying in Chinese instead. That is true. In the long run, it might be better if all pupils were eventually taught in Cantonese since, however fluent their English, there are always advantages to learning in the native language. But that lies far into the future. Nor is it what this stage of the mother-tongue policy was meant to achieve. The supposed purpose was to change the medium of instruction for those children whose English is not good enough to study in that language. Even this modest step has proved controversial as shown by the recent outcry. For the Education Department to go further and deprive some pupils capable of learning in English of the chance to do so is not only misguided. It also risks further obscuring the many benefits that a better managed shift to mother-tongue teaching should bring.