SCMP Thursday, August 17, 2000

Course mix to placate teachers on tests


Language teachers may be able to combine a new benchmark test with training courses, an education advisory body has proposed.

Instead of having to pass all five papers - reading, writing, listening, speaking and classroom instruction - in the benchmark test, teachers would be able to attend a course in one or more areas.

The suggestion has come amid strong resistance from teachers to the idea of a benchmark test - to be introduced in October - because they believe it is an insult to their professional qualifications.

It is understood the Advisory Committee on Teacher Education and Qualifications has set guidelines for the courses, to be offered at recognised local and overseas institutes with some lectures delivered online. Each of the five modules should involve at least 30 to 40 hours of instruction with class numbers limited to about 25 people.

Cheung Man-kwong - president of the Professional Teachers' Union, which led a 6,000-strong rally of teachers to protest against the policy in June - maintained the test should be abolished.

"It doesn't matter whether the benchmark test exists in whole or in part," he said. "We want the test to be scrapped and teachers to be allowed to upgrade themselves to meet the benchmark through continuous training, not a test."

The Hong Kong Institute of Education, one of the course providers, will place teachers in different classes according to their levels of proficiency.

Dr Peter Storey, head of the institute's Centre for Language and Education, said: "The purpose of placing the teachers in different classes is to give them tailored training according to their abilities."

While course fees have yet to be fixed, some teachers are expected to have to top up the $13,000 maximum subsidy they receive from the Government.

"For teachers who are nearly at the benchmark, $13,000 should be more than sufficient, but for those who need longer hours of training, they will have to invest out of their own pocket," Dr Storey said.

More than 14,400 English teachers and about 4,300 Putonghua teachers will have to be given benchmark tests by 2005, otherwise they will not be allowed to teach their subjects.

Succumbing to pressure from teachers, Joseph Wong Wing-ping, former secretary of the Education and Manpower Bureau, agreed to grant an exemption to those who majored in English or a related discipline in tertiary institutions. But only one in seven English-language teachers will benefit.

Putonghua teachers who make certain grades in the existing national tests will also be spared the benchmark test.

The Government has reserved $240 million to subsidise teachers attending the training courses.

The Advisory Committee on Teacher Education and Qualifications will submit its final proposal over the benchmark test to the Education and Manpower Bureau, which will announce details next month.

Project Springboard, which was launched this year to teach language and computer skills to Form Five school-leavers with poor exam results, has attracted more than double the number of places available, Deputy Secretary for Education and Manpower Philip Chok Kin-fun said yesterday. Education authorities had received more than 8,700 applications for 4,470 full-time student places. However, the same course for part-time students has been undersubscribed, with only 1,500 applicants for 5,320 classroom places.