SCMP Wednesday, March 7, 2001

Oral section of the benchmark test 'insult to expat teachers'


The Education Department has been accused of wasting taxpayers' money and insulting expatriate teachers by forcing them to sit the oral section of the English-language benchmark assessment test.
The oral test will be taken by 429 candidates over the next three months. Kristan Kneale, an expatriate teacher at a primary school in Yau Ma Tei, sat the 30-minute test last night. Candidates are required to read a passage and engage in conversation with a panel.
Mr Kneale, who teaches English and mathematics, said he had passed a test in the United States qualifying him to teach in public schools there and he had been approved as a qualified teacher in his home country of Australia.
"I have no objection to the benchmark test itself but as a native speaker, I am infuriated and felt insulted to be pressed by the Education Department to take the speaking test," he said.
His application for exemption was rejected by the Education Department. Teachers who majored in English and received professional training are exempt from the test.
"The Education Department is definitely not screening sufficiently enough to save taxpayers' money. They should have devoted their resources to test the oral skills of other teachers," Mr Kneale said.
Candidates have to pass all five papers - in reading, listening, writing, speaking and classroom language - to teach English. About 14,000 English-language teachers can meet the minimum standard of proficiency in English by 2005 by doing the test or attending training courses.
Ho Wing-hung, principal inspector of the Language Benchmark Section at the Education Department, said qualifications acquired in other countries were not considered under the criteria for exemption proposed by the Education and Manpower Bureau.
Out of 2,080 applicants for exemption from the English benchmark test, 1,560 were granted exemption on Monday in the first round of applications. Unsuccessful applicants can submit a written appeal within two weeks.