Teacher-class ratio to rise in focus on Chinese, English and mathematics The government's announcement that it is to increase subject specialisation in primary schools has taken the Hong Kong Institute of Education by surprise, with its head expressing concern that it could be a backward move for education reforms. Primary schools are to have their teacher to class ratio raised over three years from next September to allow them to bring in specialist teaching in the three key subjects of Chinese, English and maths, Chief Executive Tung Chee Hwa said this month. A typical primary school would gain three extra teachers. Professor Paul Morris, the HKIEd's president, said that the move could limit cross-curricular teaching as advocated in education reforms. 'I am not sure where this policy came from,' he told the South China Morning Post. 'It's a very serious issue for the education reforms, especially those relating to the curriculum which promote the need for integration and whole person development. 'Teachers in our BEds now major in a subject, but also study a minor. This arrangement is one strongly preferred by primary school principals who want teachers who can teach more than one subject.' Particularly popular was a Chinese major and maths minor, with the latter used to teach maths in early primary years. The trend worldwide was to greater integration between subjects, to make them more meaningful, he said. The switch to specialisation would also weaken the pastoral role of class teachers. The new policy could force the HKIEd to change its programmes. 'Basically we would have to close down our minors and produce programmes with single subject specialisations. We can repackage our courses. But the question is does Hong Kong want this?' Professor David Grossman, dean of the HKIEd's School of Foundations in Education, said: 'This is a backward step in terms of Hong Kong's stated curriculum reform goals, which HKIEd programmes have sought to address.' He fears other subjects, particularly general studies and the arts, would be marginalised. 'I have already had students at my door who do the minor in maths saying: 'Will we be able to teach maths in future?'' he said. 'The likelihood is that the BEd with a minor subject in maths will wither on the vine. And students reading the tea leaves of the job market will major in either English, Chinese or maths and not general studies, art, music or PE.' But maths expert Dr Frederick Leung Koon-shing, associate professor with Hong Kong University's Faculty of Education, said there were not enough specialist maths teachers. 'I welcome the suggestion of specialist teachers of maths,' he said. But he warned against filling the new posts with maths graduates who were not trained teachers. 'If this happened, it could damage standards,' he said. 'Just having a solid mathematical background is not enough. You need to be able to relate your knowledge to the curriculum and the way young children learn maths.' Dr Tse Shek-kam, associate dean of HKU's Faculty of Education, urged more high quality materials for teaching Chinese. 'Universities need to work together with schools to develop new teaching materials that involve interesting stories and sophisticated techniques for teaching children Chinese characters,' he said. Training for existing teachers should also be enhanced.