PUBLISHED : Saturday, 17 January, 2009, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 17 January, 2009, 12:00am

End fixation on 'good results' if we want children to succeed in real life

As a French teacher in American public schools for 12 years and an English teacher in Asia (Japan, mainland China, Taiwan and Hong Kong) for the past five years, I think the real problem in Hong Kong is not which language the teachers speak in the classroom but rather the ultimate goal of linguistic instruction.

If Hong Kong legislators, schools and parents remain myopically fixated only on 'good results' then any and all reform will continue to be an exercise in futility, producing the same dismal results currently lamented at all levels.

Children are being pedagogically abused on a daily basis, as they are force-fed through rote memorisation of meaningless grammar and vocabulary in order to demonstrate proficiency on fill-in-the-blank or multiple choice questions, while mere lip service is paid to real world listening and speaking skills. And why? For the simple (and unacceptable) reason that testing listening and speaking skills is not cost-effective and is much more labour intensive.

Even the 'sacred cow' IGCSE makes its listening and speaking sections optional and not calculated as part of a student's final mark. What kind of examination role model is that for classroom teachers and what message does it send to students? That listening and speaking are not important because they are not on the examination.

Language study is an end in and of itself, not a means to some artificially imposed short-term, short-sighted goal such as an exam mark, an individual teacher or college's reputation, university admission or even pleasing mum and dad. Such extrinsic motivators, as laudatory as some of them are, will not create the kind of life-long language learners who will succeed in the biggest exam of them all - real life!

Much-needed reform in Hong Kong will come, unfortunately, only when the exam mentality evolves.

A major part of the problem is that classroom teachers, curriculum designers and administrators are under such pressure - real or perceived - to produce high-flying results that they themselves have forgotten the joy of what real language communication is all about. The outdated mentality that 'if students enjoy it they can't really be learning anything' needs to be jettisoned at all levels. I can teach passive voice and reflexive pronouns in a Form 3 classroom whether discussing some boring piece of 'literature' or my students' reactions to Twilight heart-throb Robert Pattinson's new haircut. Which of the two do you think students will remember?

One year spent reading and discussing the plethora of diverse and excellent articles presented daily in Young Post combined with listening and writing about RTHK's Radio 3 programme would provide a much more effective and engaging English curriculum than most EDB or IB mandated syllabuses which are soon to be canonised (or merely rubber-stamped!) by Legco. But who, in Hong Kong, is brave enough to think that far outside the box?

CRAIG MCKEE, Tiu Keng Leng

Government should help poor families

Correspondents have argued that poor families should be responsible for their children's expenditure on extra-curricular activities and it is unnecessary for the government to subsidise students from the lower class. But I totally disagree with such cold-blooded thinking.

With the coming of the global economic crisis, the financial situation of the government has worsened. However, poor families also have financial difficulties. To ease the financial burden, parents would like to reduce their expenditure on children's extra-curricular activities. But this would affect the development of their children. The government should also consider the advancement of the youngsters.

Moreover, as inflation now sweeps across society, the prices of goods such as text books, food and stationary has increased. In particular, the fees for the HKCEE and A-Level examinations have increased, and this further harms the economic situation of families.

It is unwise for the Education Bureau to increase the parents' burden.

The government should give a hand to these poor families. Extra-curricular activities are helpful for the development of well-rounded youngsters. Students can benefit a lot from these activities, which help their physical growth and help shape healthy personalities.

In the dust and heat of a competitive society, students should strengthen themselves and try their best to become balanced youngsters who are suitable for the needs of employers.

Although the government is now in a very serious financial meltdown, education should still be a priority. The Hong Kong government should take the lead in building up well-rounded youngsters, instead of sacrificing them to save the economy.


Insular students to blame, not teachers

I am writing in response to the article 'Bad teachers turn English into a test of endurance', (South China Morning Post, December 23). I don't agree that all English teachers don't know how to teach English. In fact, mine know how to teach English and enjoy it.

According to the writer, Philip Yeung, English teachers should teach topics that interest the students. From my point of view, it is impossible to teach only what students are interested in. The whole point of learning English is communication. When you communicate, all aspects of life are talked about.

I think the main reason for declining English standards is that the younger generation takes too much for granted. Their horizons are restricted to Hong Kong. It is not teachers to blame but students.

FILLY LI, student, Tsing Lung Tau