Standards of teaching in Chinese are dropping so far that teachers are increasingly unable to use their mother tongue in class and may be affecting students' exam choices, a new study has revealed. The two-year research project, conducted by the Support Centre for Teachers Using Chinese as Medium of Instruction, found that many teachers currently teaching in Chinese had an inadequate knowledge of grammar. As a result the centre has called on universities to help future teachers by establishing courses taught in Chinese in specific school subjects. The support centre, at the University of Hong Kong, identified errors committed by teachers after studying 8,000 exam papers collected from more than 20 schools which use Chinese as the medium of instruction (CMI). The findings have been published in a book entitled Errors In Setting Examination Questions And The Expression Of Meaning. The study was conducted after 53.5 per cent of CMI teachers admitted in an earlier survey that they had hit difficulties when designing course work and examinations. Many errors were found to be common among teachers who were used to teaching in English or who had been educated in the language. Dr Tse Shek-kam, centre director and associate professor of education at the University of Hong Kong, said the research had revealed that many teachers at CMI schools could not cope properly when the Government introduced a requirement in 223 secondary schools for Form One to Three students to be taught in Chinese three years ago. 'Many teachers have the misconception that teaching in Chinese - their mother tongue - should not be a challenge at all. But most of the teachers only have AS-level Chinese and they don't understand that each subject has its specific genre,' he said. Teachers' low Chinese standards, coupled with a focus on factual answers in public exams, led Dr Tse to think that many CMI schools would switch back to teaching HKCEE subjects in English. This is despite a jump in HKCEE exam entries taken in Chinese language this year to 34.7 per cent from 24.6 per cent in 1998, and the fact that in 19 out of the 31 subjects which offered a choice of Chinese and English, a majority of students chose Chinese. Poor Chinese also damaged CMI students' chances of maintaining a competitive edge over their counterparts on the mainland and Taiwan, Dr Tse added. This is particularly the case in technical subjects such as sciences, which have seen the least increase in numbers of day school candidates using Chinese, with less than 25 per cent of exams taken in the language. In the past three years, arts subjects have had the highest increase in the number of day school candidates using Chinese. Statistics compiled by the centre show that about 100 of the CMI schools will teach HKCEE science subjects in English this September, whereas no more than 50 will do the same for arts subjects. The centre offers summer courses and online workshops to help CMI teachers design exams and course work.