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Language Benchmark assessments

LEGCO QUESTION NO. 14 (Written Reply)

Date of Meeting: 24 May 2000

Asked by : Dr Hon David LI

Replied by : SEM

Question :

Serving teachers teaching English and Putonghua in Primary and Secondary schools are to be benchmarked by 2005 through taking the Language Benchmark Examinations or attending accredited training courses. In this connection, will the Government inform this Council whether it will consider extending the language benchmark requirement to teachers of other subjects; if it will, of the details; if not, the reasons for that?


Madam President,

The language benchmark initiative arose from the Education Commission Report No. 6, published in 1996 after two rounds of public consultation, which recognised the urgent need in Hong Kong to enhance the proficiency of Chinese (including Putonghua) and English of young people in order to meet changing political, economic, social and cultural demands. The Commission recommended a number of measures to enhance the language abilities of teachers and students. One of the measures was to establish language benchmarks for teachers and to help ensure that teachers can meet these benchmarks. The recommendation was generally well received.

  1. In pursuing this initiative, Government is conscious that there are many factors which may influence the language proficiency of students. We have therefore adopted a comprehensive strategy and earmarked huge resources to address the problem. For example, we have introduced various support measures in the past few years to enable schools to enhance language teaching. These include, to name a few:
    1. the provision of multi-media learning centres to schools which will facilitate the teaching and learning of languages. To date, about 280 secondary schools have been, or will soon be, furnished with these centres;
    2. the provision of over 600 additional teachers for primary schools to co-ordinate library service and to support the Chinese and English reading schemes;
    3. the provision of over 580 additional English teachers for secondary schools using Chinese as the medium of instruction;
    4. a Native-speaking English Teacher (NET) scheme for secondary schools. To date, there are about 440 NET teachers;
    5. a business-school partnership programme to provide secondary students with the awareness of the importance of English in the workplace and exposure to authentic language environments. To date, 170 schools and 100 companies have agreed to participate in the programme; and
    6. the many innovative language projects in schools funded by the Language Fund and the Quality Education Fund.

    The above measures cost about $780 million in capital expenditure and about $860 million in recurrent expenditure. Language benchmarks of teachers is one of the key elements of the comprehensive strategy as there can be no doubt that teachers' language proficiency have a direct bearing on students' language proficiency because of teachers' unique position in the education process.

  2. The language benchmarks for English and Putonghua teachers in primary and secondary schools were developed by the Advisory Committee on Teacher Education and Qualifications (ACTEQ) which includes school principals and teachers, as well as representatives of teacher training institutions. The Committee was advised by consultants who were experts on the subjects. The benchmarks have been accepted by Government for implementation.

  3. From the 2000/01 school year onward, new teachers teaching English or Putonghua will have to be benchmarked through examinations. The timeframe within which they need to attain benchmark status will slightly vary depending on the teachers' training background, but in the main they should be benchmarked within one year after they have started teaching the relevant subject(s).

  4. Serving teachers teaching English or Putonghua will have five years, i.e. until 2005, to attain the benchmarks. They can choose to attend a benchmark examination, or they can attend recognised training courses which will include an element of internal assessment so that successful completion of the training courses will be regarded as attaining the benchmark.

  5. Benchmark examinations, conducted by the Hong Kong Examinations Authority and the Education Department, will be held twice a year, starting from October 2000. Training courses will be provided by local and overseas training institutions. The institutions have been invited to draw up course proposals. We expect each course to last between 150 to 200 contact hours, and to be structured on a modular basis to enable teachers seeking training on particular skills to make easy selection. The first of such courses should commence in the final quarter of the year. We envisage that training course providers will be able to announce details on training arrangements by August.

  6. Serving English and Putonghua teachers will receive full reimbursement for taking the examinations, and a reimbursement up to about $13,000 for attending the accredited training courses. The Government has set aside about $240 million in the next five years to ensure that all serving English and Putonghua teachers will have the opportunity to attend training courses if they so wish.

  7. New and serving teachers who are unable to attain benchmark status within the timeframe described above may remain in the profession. Although they may not continue to teach the relevant language(s) until they are benchmarked subsequently, they may take up other teaching duties.

  8. The Government has considered carefully the question of exempting teachers who possess the necessary qualifications from the whole or part of the benchmarking requirement. Following ACTEQ's advice, we agree that teachers with a pass in the Advanced Level Putonghua Proficiency Test conducted by the Hong Kong Examinations Authority, and teachers who obtain Grade B Level 2 or above in the National Putonghua Proficiency Test may be exempted from parts of the Putonghua benchmark requirements.

  9. As for the English benchmark, the Government originally accepted ACTEQ's recommendation that there should be no exemption for the time being since data collected during the consultancy study did not provide sufficient information to form a clear basis for providing exemption. Since then, we have reviewed the situation in the light of comments and further information provided by the education sector. We are now actively considering the possibility of exempting from the English benchmark requirement teachers who possess relevant degrees and professional training. We will invite ACTEQ to advise on the matter, including various associated technical and practical issues. We will announce the details as soon as possible.

  10. As a next step and based on the recommendation in ECR6, Government has tasked ACTEQ to establish language benchmarks for teachers who teach Chinese language, and teachers who use English as the medium of instruction to teach non-English language subjects. ACTEQ will shortly be inviting proposals from consultants on the development of these benchmarks.
Last revision date: 24 May 2000
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