Parents and teachers anxious to discover how their children can master Chinese literacy skills more easily packed a seminar at the Baptist University's Academic Community Hall on Tuesday. They were there to learn the method of teaching Chinese characters to primary pupils developed by Dr Tse Shek-kam, associate professor of curriculum studies at the University of Hong Kong. His system has had a meteoric rise in popularity over the past year and has now been introduced in more than a quarter of primary schools. Dictation and copying go unapproved in Dr Tse's method, Integrated Effective Learning of Chinese Characters. Instead, Primary One pupils are taught to read as many as 500 characters within six months through game-centred rhymes and poems. Dr Tse, who is also director of HKU's Support Centre for Teachers Using Chinese as a Medium of Instruction, found that characters in traditional textbooks often bore little relation to vocabulary children had developed in their early childhood. He also recommends that children learn characters as a combination of elements rather than by memorising individual strokes. Although similar approaches are common and well received on the mainland, Dr Tse's model was not widely accepted in Hong Kong until last year. Three years ago, only five schools were willing to act as pilots. Now, more than 200 primary schools have adopted the model. Last year, the Education Department began to recognise Dr Tse's efforts, and has since staged 14 promotional seminars for school heads, teachers and parents. Two seminars held in January were so popular that an additional one was organised for this week for 800 more participants. The department has also published and distributed a booklet to all local primary schools to introduce the approach. Integrated Effective Learning of Chinese Characters represents an initial stage of reform in language teaching. Next month the Education Department will launch the second stage with Dr Tse, to promote new methods of teaching Chinese writing. Currently, children in the early primary years are only expected to write simple sentences. Under the new approach they will be taught how to write more extensive compositions and letters, with the freedom to draw pictures for characters they do not know. The support given by different parties in the education sector is bringing about a classroom revolution, Dr Tse believes. 'We bring together the Education Department, teachers and parents to make it clear that nobody has ever asked schools to use dictation and copying to teach children Chinese characters. Teachers adopt these methods only because they were taught this way in the old days,' he said. His approach, he added, was based more on children's natural mental development. The adverse influence of too much dictation and copying was not only reflected in one subject, he said. 'Children tend to associate these with a sense of failure because they are afraid of making mistakes and getting a red mark. They become scared of seeing Chinese characters, which explains why many students don't want to read anything written in Chinese.' Large numbers of parents are now trying to send their children to schools that are using Dr Tse's approach. At the end of Tuesday's seminar, parents crowded round Dr Tse, asking the names of schools using the method. Pun Tin-chi, the principal of GCEPSA Whampoa Primary School, said that his Primary One students had already built up an interest in reading after just one term. 'Before we adopted this approach, they could only read story books when they reached Primary Three because the number of characters they had learnt was limited,' he said. The objectives of the method also match those of the current education reforms by enabling children to read more widely than has been traditionally possible in the early primary years. Andrew Poon Chung-shing, assistant director of education and chief inspector of schools, said that Dr Tse's approach was helping to build a foundation for other reforms. 'Education reforms have to begin with improving the students' language abilities since good language skills are vital for communication, other studies and their future careers,' he said. The Education Department's chief schools development officer for southern districts, Kwong Sin-mee, also thought Dr Tse's seminars an effective way to support classroom change. 'We have no intention of imposing the approach on all primary schools, but would rather start by letting parents and teachers who have been practising it to inspire others to follow this approach or adopt other innovative methods. I think this is how education reform should be carried out,' she said. Dr Tse's seminars have been rallying parents around the reforms in teaching style, and enabling them to give more positive support to their children's learning. 'Parents can do nothing if we only give them a pile of education reform documents - more channels and guidelines are needed for them to get involved in parent education,' said Dr Tse.