Failing in English

IT IS increasingly apparent that higher educational institutions are failing to perform their social and economic roles in Hongkong.

Focusing on English language skills, it is my impression that 80 to 90 per cent of the graduates churned out from local universities, polytechnics and colleges in the past 10 years are internationally incompetent.

Incompetent because the majority are unable to read and write properly, or carry out a normal conversation correctly (grammatically), either on a commercial or social basis.

For Hongkong to prosper as an international business city and maintain its standard of living, it will have to stand apart from other Chinese cities after the handover of sovereignty in 1997.

Hongkong's remaining comparative advantages (in competition with other Chinese cities) are its international capabilities, connections and understanding of the world.

With Hongkong becoming more of a Chinese city (in culture and language), it is imperative that a sufficient number of English speakers are employed at universities, colleges and polytechnics so that students can have the opportunity to practise their communication skills.

I suggest 30 to 40 per cent of the lecturers and professors should be from countries such as the United States, Canada, Australia or Britain.

The university admission criteria and tests are the other problem area. It must be emphasised that the admission examination has an important influence on secondary and even primary education.

Graduates are generally observed to be poor in vocabulary, grammar and conversation, and these are the areas we should work on.

Another area of concern is the concept of popular education (as against elitist education), where the young are literally swept into higher education irrespective of their calibre.

In Hongkong it is becoming easier to recruit a manager than to recruit a messenger or clerk. What is the Secretary for Manpower and Education doing about this growing shortage of low-grade workers, which is equally important to the future of the economy? Perhaps there is a need to set up some sort of employers' council on educational performance and output to control these narrow specialists, whose mentality seems divorced from the cut-throat world of international business.

I think at tertiary institutions international language courses and examinations (particularly in English) should be compulsory for all freshmen. If students fail these language courses, they should retake them or be asked to leave. Let us love and nurture them in a realistic manner.

I think the Government should scale down the financing of tertiary bodies, close poorly performing faculties and lay off the non-performing lecturers, and send our young people overseas for a better and more authentic training.

It would be more economical and beneficial to Hongkong in the long run.

Y. M. CHEUNG Sha Tin