SCMP Wednesday, November 15, 2000

English proficiency 'passport' proposed


Undergraduates could have their English continually assessed under a study launched by a universities taskforce.
Taskforce convenor Professor Gregory James said one idea being considered was a ''language passport'' that would be ''stamped'' to give a portfolio of a student's achievements in English over a period of time.
Descriptive grades rather than a pass or fail would be used to rate students, said Professor James, also director of the language centre at the University of Science and Technology.
''This is not a question of passing or failing but to report the achievements of a student, and it's up to employers to decide whether to accept it. A person should be judged by his achievement on a personal basis,'' he said.
''Assignments would be given to students to rate them according to different scales.''
The taskforce has stopped short of confirming whether students would be unable to graduate unless they attained a satisfactory grade in English.
But Professor David Nunan, director of the language centre at the University of Hong Kong, said it was difficult to introduce uniform assessment systems. At the university, faculty-specific English courses were available for all students.
''It's insane to compare the English of a medicine or law major to a science major. It's like comparing oranges and apples,'' he said.
At present, most institutes have their own programmes, backed by government funds, to enhance students' English, but there has been a public outcry recently over the decline in graduates' language abilities.
Jal Shroff, spokesman for the Business Coalition on Education, said: ''Until the universities come up with an acceptable assessment, I would ask a job applicant to send me an e-mail on a subject.
''Very often, the e-mails are written quite terribly,'' added Mr Shroff, managing director of US-based watch-maker Fossil (East) Ltd.