Primary pupils display only marginal skills in attainment tests from EMB Primary three and five students achieved only marginal results in the attainment tests in Chinese and English run by the Education and Manpower Bureau last July. Similar to 2002, the average scores out of 100 in English for Primary Three and Five students were 49.3 and 53.57 respectively and in Chinese 42.89 and 48.38, out of a total of 100. The tests were organised by the EMB in all schools to give them a better idea of how their students fared and to help teachers identify areas in need of improvement. Students' reading, writing, listening and speaking skills in both languages were tested. The results were announced at a seminar held by the EMB's Research and Test Development Section last week, attended by about 950 principals and teachers. A report by the section identified a lack of confidence among the students in speaking English, poor spelling and inadequate patience in listening to the language. But the EMB maintained no passing grade was set for the tests. 'Some students were afraid to look at teachers in their English oral tests, with some just responding with a single word like yes or no,' said EMB education officer Jacky Lau. During the oral test, students were required to speak to the teacher for three minutes in English. In listening, students tended to show a lack of patience and 'jump to an answer too quickly', the report said. It recommended that teachers let students do more class presentations to enhance their oral skills. The report also identified a 'serious'' problem of students not being able to write Chinese characters correctly. In terms of English, students had difficulties in spelling such words as 'November' and 'banana'. Tong Pui-chi, principal of Xianggang Putonghua Yanxishe Primary School of Science & Creativity, Tin Shui Wai, attributed students' limited language capabilities to lack of exposure to English and to written Chinese. 'Students speak Cantonese in their daily lives. They have very little time to use English and written Chinese, so both languages suffer. 'I would not say it's the problem of teachers, but I notice that some primary teachers speak Cantonese during English lessons,' said Ms Tong, who supports the use of Putonghua as the medium to teach Chinese in primary schools. 'By using Putonghua to teach Chinese, students can speak, listen and write the same language.' Starting from the next academic year, the attainment tests will be replaced by basic competency assessments. The latter differs from the attainment tests by having a greater variety of questions in the written examinations and adding on-line assessments which students can take at any time during the academic year, used to support their learning.