SCMP Friday, November 24, 2000

Dual-language move 'spells chaos'


A key teachers' union warned yesterday of chaos if schools take part in a government study on the effectiveness of teaching certain subjects in English and others in Chinese.
The three-year experimental project, launched by the Education Department, is inviting about 10 Chinese-medium schools to teach a maximum of three subjects in English. An unspecified number of English-medium schools will be chosen to teach some subjects in Chinese, to see if dual-method teaching will benefit students.
But Cheung Man-kwong, president of the Professional Teachers' Union, said: "If possible, schools should consider not taking part in the experiment. It's going to be chaotic with some classes conducted in Chinese and others in English."
Mr Cheung, a Democratic Party legislator for the education sector, said the Education Department should be looking at how schools could help students who had studied subjects in Chinese in junior forms go on to senior forms where all subjects would be taught in English.
Since September 1998, only 114 out of more than 400 secondary schools have been approved as English-medium. The rest have either switched to, or remain, Chinese-medium under the mother-tongue teaching policy.
The dual-mode teaching study has been seen as a compromise as the department tries to tone down its stringent policy amid criticism of falling English standards among students.
But assistant director for education Lee Kwok-sung said: "We didn't launch the study because there were any defects with the existing policy. We are not trying to revise our mother-tongue policy with the findings of the study."
Only schools admitting students from middle and upper-middle ability ranges have been asked to submit their proposals for the project, and will be told if they have been chosen by the end of next month.
Fukien Secondary School started dual-mode teaching in September in mathematics, computer science, geography, history and integrated science in two Secondary One classes. Principal Lam Kin-wah said: "We've found that the students are able to learn in English, although some of them are struggling with their vocabularies and problem-solving ability."
The Direct Subsidy Scheme school in Kwun Tong, which is not subject to the Government's mother-tongue policy, will take part in the experiment, which is due to be completed in 2004.
The direct subsidy scheme began in the early 1990s. Secondary schools operating under the scheme enjoy greater flexibility and autonomy than public sector schools.