An Australian academic has called for the adoption of Putonghua as the medium of instruction in secondary schools in Hong Kong. Professor Liu Tsun-yan, foundation fellow of the Australian Academic of the Humanities and Emeritus professor at the Australian National University, said Putonghua education was inadequate in Hong Kong. Speaking at a public lecture entitled, Teaching of Chinese in secondary education in Hong Kong, Professor Liu said all subjects other than English should be taught in Putonghua within two years. 'A suitable study environment is the key to success in learning a language,' he said. 'But most secondary schools only offer two Putonghua lessons weekly. If subjects other than English can be taught in Putonghua, I trust the students will be able to speak the language fluently.' Professor Liu also discussed the benefits and drawbacks of learning standard Chinese through a dialect. He said the use of Cantonese in reading literary Chinese was traditional in the SAR and Guangdong province. However, the differences between standard Chinese and Cantonese often confused the uninitiated when they came across Cantonese expressions in the newspaper. 'Though Cantonese is the most popular language in the SAR, no one would ever use it to edit a textbook,' he said, adding that this was the main reason for teachers to guide students in using literary Chinese in composition. 'The unification of China is deeply rooted in common literary Chinese, and Putonghua education can enhance the students' identification of the Chinese as a people.' In line with the current 'bi-literate and tri-lingual' education policy, Professor Liu encouraged schools to employ native Putonghua speakers to create the necessary study atmosphere. He said the objective of the education policy could be achieved in 10 years. Professor Liu criticised the rigid separation of English and mother-tongue schools as an impediment to progress in education. He also criticised the public examination syllabus as it covered several appendices which reduced a student's interest in the subjects. He said the theme in public examinations should emphasise composition, which he described as the tool to narrow the gap between literary and spoken Chinese. 'This examination format will encourage both teachers and students to improve their Chinese,' he said. Chan Chun-hung and Lai Sze-man, Form Five students at St Joseph's Secondary School in Ma On Shan, said Professor Liu's speech gave them a unique insight into Chinese language education. 'Putonghua has become an important language after Hong Kong's return to the mainland,' they said. This year, their school has employed a native Putonghua speaker to enhance the students' language ability. Their Chinese language teacher, Ho Sai-cheong, said Putonghua had become the core of education at his school. He said the lecture gave students a chance to have a better understanding of the Chinese language.