The local curriculum is hampering reading abilities despite the introduction of a new learning method, educators have warned. 'In most developed countries, such as the US, UK and Sweden, children at the age of nine are already expected to read a passage of 1,200 words in comprehension exams,' said Tse Shek-kam, associate professor of curriculum studies at the University of Hong Kong. 'In Hong Kong, it's only about 900 words for the Hong Kong Certificate of Education Examination [HKCEE].' Since 2001, more than 200 primary schools in Hong Kong have adopted Dr Tse's model of Integrated Effective Learning of Chinese Characters to improve the Chinese vocabularies of students, in line with the recommendations of the Education and Manpower Bureau. While most of the schools found increased reading ability and interest, Dr Tse said there might be a slowdown in the pace of learning because the HKCEE required only basic reading skills. 'On one hand, we want students to develop skills in analysing long text passages; on the other hand, we are giving them textbooks filled with short passages. 'This inconsistency is confusing both for students and teachers,' he said. Susan Lee Su-san, a Chinese teacher at the GCEPSA Whampoa Primary School which adopted the Integrated Effective Learning of Chinese Characters approach in 2000, said many Primary One and Two students found the current Chinese textbooks unsatisfying because they were too simple. Celeste Yuen Yuet-mui, a lecturer in the department of education policy and administration at the Hong Kong Institute of Education, said the schools should also consider reducing the workload of students and encourage reading. 'Instead of doing homework, mainland students are asked to read books after lessons,' Dr Yuen said. 'So, though their language learning is mainly based on textbooks like in Hong Kong, they are used to reading long passages.'