SCMP Wednesday, May 24, 2000

EDUCATION REFORM

Union members set to rally over language proficiency test

GARY CHEUNG


A union yesterday called a protest rally as tens of thousands of teachers rebelled against language benchmark assessments. The Professional Teachers' Union has collected signatures from 32,000 teachers, more than 70 per cent of the total number of primary and secondary school teachers, objecting to the tests.

The union, which has called for teachers of English and Putonghua to boycott the test, is calling on members to attend a rally on Saturday to vote for action. The union has a total of 60,000 members. Its president, Cheung Man-kwong, declined to estimate how many teachers would attend the rally.

The Language Benchmark Assessment is compulsory for more than 18,000 teachers of English and Putonghua, and serving teachers have to be assessed by 2005. While some teachers of Putonghua who are holders of recognised qualifications will be exempt from the test, all 14,400 English-language teachers are required to meet the minimum standard by either sitting the test or attending accredited training courses. The first test is due to be held in October.

Mr Cheung, of the Democratic Party, who represents teachers in the legislature, said: "The assessment signifies the Education Department's distrust of language teachers and it will definitely hit their morale." He said the union had long encouraged teachers to participate in continuous learning, but that a compulsory test was unacceptable. He said that even teachers who majored in English when they studied at university had to be assessed.

Mr Cheung said the Education Department had begun to soften its stance after the union called for a boycott two weeks ago. But the union would not accept partial exemption, and the assessment should be abolished.

An Education Department spokesman said he understood the teachers' anxiety and would discuss implementation of the scheme with them. Secretary for Education and Manpower Joseph Wong Wing-ping would give a written reply to the Legislative Council and write to teachers with a detailed explanation of the scheme today, the spokesman said.

Needy pupils will get a grant of $400 a year to buy stationery and the full cost of their text books under a government proposal. The current grants for books and stationery range from $51 to $108 per school year, but the Government found there was now a wider range of school-related expenses.

The proposal, which needs approval from the Finance Committee, will require extra expenditure of $100 million.