SCMP Monday, June 12, 2000

'Union power' urged to beat English tests

ANGELI LI


Veteran lawmaker Cheung Man-kwong says he has never been so "clear and firm" on an issue in his 10 years in the legislature as he is in resisting benchmark language testing for teachers.

Mr Cheung, president of the 75,000-strong Professional Teachers' Union and a member of the Democratic Party, said: "We have gone numb for far too long after having immersed ourselves in the law-making body all these years. There were far too many issues that we thought could be resolved in the legislature.

"But since the handover, the legislature is just a venue for discussion, rather than for problem-solving."

Mr Cheung said he thought the power of trade unions was far greater than that of the legislature, and this was shown in the 6,000 teachers who turned out on Saturday in protest against the plan.

He said the Democratic Party should organise more mass protests. He accused Tung Chee-hwa's administration of stirring waves of division since the handover. This included marshalling sentiment against new arrivals from the mainland with the "scare-mongering" figure of 1.67 million, and making social welfare beneficiaries scapegoats by putting across the message that the dole breeds laziness.

He said the Government had sought to fan hatred and distrust against teachers by giving the false image that students' language standards would improve if teachers sat the test.

He said the Government was avoiding responsibility for falling standards and attributed the problem to oversized classes and teachers' heavy workload. He dismissed criticism teachers were reluctant to take the test because they were afraid of failing.

"They succeeded in numerous examinations before gaining their qualifications. Why should their qualifications be abruptly thrown down the drain overnight after teaching for decades?"