SCMP Tuesday, December 19, 2000

Teachers' English tests 'too taxing'


Many teachers may fail if they have to achieve benchmark levels in all components of the standardised English test, educators have warned.
The Deputy Secretary for Education and Manpower, Joseph Lai Yi-tak, said teachers must reach minimum benchmark requirements in all components of the five-test categories: reading, listening, writing, speaking and classroom instructions.
Teachers' English proficiency is graded on a scale of one to five, with level three representing the basic benchmark requirement. Components in the speaking section include grammatical accuracy, pronunciation, intonation, organisation and coherence. The first benchmark test will be held in March.
All 14,000 English-language teachers and 4,300 Putonghua teachers are required to meet minimum benchmark standards by 2005. About 3,500 teachers who majored in English and have received professional training are exempt from the test.
But Rosalind Chan Lo-sai, chairman of the Association of English-medium Secondary Schools and principal of St Mark's School in Shau Kei Wan, said: "I foresee 90 per cent of English-language teachers in primary schools will have problems passing the test." Pauline Chow Lo-sai, a member of the Advisory Committee on Teachers' Education and Qualifications, said: "I know some teachers, especially those who teach English in Primary One and Two and who couldn't care less about their English standards, will have difficulties. That's why they should attend training courses."
Teachers who fail can retake the tests and achieve the required levels within five years. It is expected that the requirement for the test and training courses are largely the same.
A total of $240 million has been set aside to train teachers, and 2,800 training places - 1,600 for English and 1,200 for Putonghua teachers - will be available in February. School-based training courses will be offered by course providers. Mr Lai said the second batch of courses would be announced after Christmas. He said the Government would begin setting up a system to assess the language proficiency of teachers at 114 English-medium schools next year. It is expected to determine which schools can continue to use English as the medium of instruction.