Raising Students’ English Proficiency
Maintaining Our Competitive Edge
Mr Eddie Ng Hak-kim
Secretary for Education
As an international language, English is essential for communication between Hong Kong and other countries in the world. For Hong Kong to be accorded the status of an international city, it is essential that the people of Hong Kong maintain a high proficiency in English. Recently, there are surveys reporting that the English standards in Hong Kong are declining and compare unfavourably with some of our neighbouring countries and areas in Asia. This has aroused considerable concern indicating the importance different sectors in the public attach to English proficiency.
English standards in Hong Kong are not declining
The average scores attained by the people of Hong Kong in the International English Language Testing System (IELTS) in the past five years have been maintained at 6.3 and 6.4 (a score of 6 in ILETS indicating competent users), a performance that compares favourably with most of the neighbouring countries or areas such as Japan, Taiwan, South Korea and India. Based on employers' survey, employers are generally satisfied with the English language proficiency of fresh graduates of first degree and sub-degree programmes. In the 2011/12 school year, our local university graduates who participated in the IELTS sponsored by the University Grants Committee were able to achieve an average score of 6.72. The performance of people in Hong Kong being among the best in Asia reflects a standard considered outstanding in places where English is a second or foreign language.
From 2007 onwards, our local primary and secondary students have had steady performance in the Territory-wide System Assessment (TSA) in English Language. In 2013, the participating students at all three levels (Primary 3, Primary 6 and Secondary 3) have shown improvement over the previous assessments. This reflects that the English standards of Hong Kong students are not on the decline but making slight improvement, which is gratifying.
Notwithstanding this, there is always scope for improvement. Hong Kong should never rest on its laurels. At the same time, we need not be unnecessarily self-effacing every time we read reports on surveys which compare us unfavourably with other places. Perhaps, what we should do first is to ascertain the sampling method and representativeness of the surveys.
A diversified English language curriculum to broaden students’ learning experiences
We are very much concerned about the English standards of our students, and an array of different measures has been implemented to enhance learning and teaching effectiveness. Our English language curriculum has an open and flexible framework, which encourages the use of diversified activities to foster learning motivation, and to develop students’ listening, speaking, reading and writing skills for integrated use. Findings from two recent research studies commissioned to The University of Hong Kong and Hong Kong Baptist University on the implementation of the English language curriculum at the primary and secondary levels respectively indicated that our primary students in general enjoyed learning English and were confident in using English. Our secondary students opined that learning English facilitated their pursuit of further education, careers and communication with others in English and over 60% of them indicated that they could express their thoughts, feelings and experiences in English.
Students’ mastery of strategies for language learning, demonstration of confidence in using English and display of a good learning attitude are all critical factors leading to improvement in their English standards. These in turn enable students to fulfil their multifarious needs in future life, further education and different workplaces, allowing them to develop their potential in different positions in the professions and careers they pursue.
Developing the professional capacity and enhancing the quality of teaching
We have devoted enormous resources and implemented a full range of measures to enhance the quality of English language teaching. These include providing professional development programmes for serving English teachers to enhance their teaching effectiveness and professional capacity. We have also offered the Scholarship for Prospective English Teachers to attract persons proficient in English to pursue a career in teaching English. In addition, we have launched the Quality Education Fund and the (Refined) English Enhancement Schemes, and allocated extra resources for the recruitment of Native-speaking English Teachers (NETs) to provide support to primary and secondary schools for English language learning and teaching as well as enrichment of an English learning environment.
Students benefitting tremendously from an excellent teaching force
The dedication of our English teachers is one of the crucial factors contributing to our students’ sustained good English standards. Our local English language teaching force is commendable for being excellent in quality. For new English teachers, they have to meet the Language Proficiency Requirement. For serving English teachers, they actively participate in various professional development programmes organised by the Bureau so as to be well grounded in English language teaching pedagogies.
Findings indicated that the learning atmosphere and students’ learning attitude in the majority of the primary and secondary schools undergoing external school review in the past five years were generally good. A number of university academics also commented that our students’ speaking and collaborative skills had shown remarkable improvements. Such results would not have been possible without the dedicated efforts of our teachers in responding positively to the curriculum reform by enhancing learning and teaching effectiveness and developing our students’ language and generic skills. English teachers’ contribution to our students’ sustained good English standards is praiseworthy.
Sustained enhancement of our students’ English standards through diversified means
Both Chinese and English languages are of equal importance in Hong Kong, a society where East meets West. With a view to raising students’ English standards, due attention should also be given to their learning of the Chinese language. Through continued efforts, Hong Kong students have made considerable achievements in Chinese language learning, particularly in reading. The results of the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) 2009 revealed that the reading performance of 15-year-old students in Hong Kong ranked fourth among the 65 participating countries/areas in the world. We believe that the knowledge, skills and attitudes our students develop through learning Chinese are also conducive to their learning of English, which is their second language. With ties between Hong Kong and other countries strengthened under the globalisation of economies, different sectors of our society have high expectations on students’ language proficiency. Our students need to be able to overcome future challenges to embrace new opportunities.
Knowledge acquisition in the information-rich 21st century is no longer confined to teachers’ direct instruction in the classroom. Students do not need to completely rely on their teachers in learning English. Students may, depending on their interests and abilities, acquire and use English after class through different channels and media. We deeply believe that, through our diversified curriculum and appropriate injection of resources, coupled with students’ positive learning attitudes and our excellent teachers, there will be continued improvement of our students’ English standards, thus ensuring that our edge in having a citizenship of good English can be sustained.
10 November 2013