Harrow right to take simplified approach

Decision by top international school to switch from teaching traditional Chinese characters has made it an online target for localist circles, but it was correct to do so

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 07 June, 2018, 4:14am
UPDATED : Thursday, 07 June, 2018, 7:54am

If you didn’t know better, you might think one of the city’s most elite international schools is trying to commit cultural genocide.

Harrow International School has announced it will switch to teaching simplified Chinese characters in phases, from next year. This has been the trend among most international schools in the past decade.

In any case, as Harrow is a private school, its own educational decisions are entirely a matter for the school and the families of students there.

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But the yellow ribbon localist circles have exploded in anger after news sites on.cc and HK01, and the Oriental Daily News reported the planned switch. Reading their comments, they seem to think they should have a stake and a say in it.

A thread from the online forum lihkg.com is especially vitriolic. A fair number of posts are unprintable in a family newspaper. Many contain references to some parents of the school as “chee-na dogs”, a derogatory phrase for those from the mainland.

Some more reasoned comments allege the school is helping to suppress local Cantonese culture (because it uses traditional characters), or is caving to pressure from the mainland or mainland language instructors at the school.

Cantonese to stay on the tip of our tongues

Many responses in HK01 and Stand News are not any better:

“Mainlandisation, [expletives]!”

“[Expletive] Harrow. Cancel its school licence.”

“[Expletive] Simplified rubbish characters are for illiterate mainlanders. How can they pretend rubbish characters are Hong Kong people’s mother tongue? Resist, boycott [Harrow].”

“Philistines kowtowing to mainland money.”

Since the 1997 handover, all schools, including international schools and the publicly subsidised English Schools Foundation (though subsidies are being phased out), have had to address the need to teach simplified characters.

Some international schools teach both types of written characters throughout the grades; others teach traditional characters in lower grades and introduce simplified characters during senior years.

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When my two children were at an international school, a switch was made to teaching in simplified characters. Some local parents were unhappy with the decision, as is reportedly the case at Harrow now.

But there was never a policy banning traditional characters at my kids’ old school. Local Cantonese-speaking pupils brought up using traditional characters could submit their assignments written in them.

However, mainland and expatriate students generally found it much easier to learn and write in simplified characters.

Localist anti-mainland fanaticism notwithstanding, it would be negligent for schools, international or otherwise, to ignore simplified Chinese writing.