Speech at the Annual General Meeting of the Hong Kong International Institute of Educational Leadership
Speech by Mr Raymond H C Wong, JP,
Permanent Secretary for Education
at the Annual General Meeting of the
Hong Kong International Institute of Educational Leadership
on Tuesday, 9th December 2008
Fine-tuning the Medium of Instruction
Reverend Deignan, Distinguished Guests, Ladies and Gentlemen,
It is my great pleasure to be invited to the Annual General Meeting of the Hong Kong International Institute of Educational Leadership. I am pleased to see that since its inception in 1997, the Institute has firmly committed to promoting value education. The effort, the dedication, the persistence in doing what is right, as exemplified by the Institute, are indeed representative of that which we cherish in Hong Kong.
As we all agree, education goes much beyond developing literacy and imparting knowledge. Education believes in bringing about the best of every student, be they genius or ordinary kids. We want them to learn, to learn how to learn and to grow to be individuals meaningful to themselves, their families and the society. Language is a medium through which we acquire knowledge, analyze issues, think and express opinions. In order to enable children to learn effectively in a society where Chinese is our mother tongue, the government announced mother-tongue teaching as a general educational policy in 1998 with only a handful of schools exempted for their proven records and conditions in educating their students effectively in English. For children who study at schools using the mother tongue as the medium of instruction, the Government has been injecting enormous resources to enhance their learning and teaching of English as well. Our goal is to cultivate motivation amongst students in learning and to learn effectively through mother-tongue teaching, while enabling our students to be proficient in both Chinese and English.
Over the past ten years of mother-tongue teaching, we have been asked, time and again, whether the academic performance of our students has been rising or falling. I am glad to say that the standard of our students as a whole is actually on the rise. Taking the Hong Kong Certificate of Education Examination as an example, we have witnessed considerable improvement in the pass rates of Chinese-medium students, the so-called CMI students, in content subjects such as Geography, Chemistry and Biology as well as in the proportion of CMI students obtaining 5 or more subject passes (including Chinese language and English Language).
It is amidst these achievements of mother-tongue teaching that we are now proposing the fine-tuning of the medium-of-instruction arrangements. But why ? Because we are trying to:
l respond to the aspirations of the society, parents and the school sector that our students need more exposure to English in the classroom as the English environment in Hong Kong is not so conducive to the learning of English;
l give our students more opportunities to learn English from the perspective of content subjects so as to smooth their transition to senior secondary and post-secondary education which is normally conducted in English; and
l allow mother-tongue teaching to flourish on a more solid ground by minimizing the labeling effect arising from the classification of secondary schools into CMI schools and English-medium schools, or commonly known as EMI schools.
Let me stress that our aim is not to overturn the existing medium-of-instruction policy. The policy has laid the foundation for mother-tongue teaching, something which can indeed facilitate students’ learning of content subjects. Nor do we have any intention of adopting a laissez-faire policy which allows schools complete freedom to decide their medium-of-instruction arrangements. Therefore we have no intention of relinquishing the three prescribed criteria of “student ability”, “teacher capability” and “support measures for schools” for adopting EMI teaching as recommended under the Education Commission Report of 2005 on Review of Medium of Instruction for Secondary Schools and the Secondary School Places Allocation.
Over the past few months, we have been engaging stakeholders in discussion to fine-tune the medium-of-instruction arrangements. It is encouraging to see that most of them agree that there is a need for fine-tuning and they support the objectives and the overall direction of the proposed refinement. General consensus has been reached on the removal of classification of schools into CMI and EMI categories, as well as on the requirement for “teacher capability” as prescribed in the Education Commission report so as to uphold the quality of teaching. Notwithstanding this, we are aware that some stakeholders hold strong views on the details on how to implement the fine-tuning arrangements. For example, some school councils are objecting strongly to the so-called “by-class arrangement” .
Yet, we will not compromise students’ learning effectiveness while attempting to gain consensus over the fine-tuning arrangements. We believe that the fine-tuning must be conducted in an orderly manner. Under the proposed arrangements, based on the prescribed criteria of “student ability” upon which schools have admitted 85% of the “top 40% group” students may adopt English as the medium-of-instruction, we will decide on the number of classes in which the school concerned would be given maximum flexibility to choose the appropriate medium-of-instruction. Schools may exercise such flexibility in the form of “by class”, “by group”, “by subject” and “by session” arrangements, having regard to their own circumstances, including those of the needs of students, teacher capability and support measures.
As for other classes which do not meet the prescribed “student ability” criteria, schools may increase the lesson time for extended learning activities in English from the original 15%, 20% and 25% for secondary one, secondary two and secondary three respectively to a uniform rate of 25% out of the total lesson time (but excluding the lesson time for the English Language subject) across the three levels. Views have been expressed to allow schools more flexibility within the ceiling of 25% by allowing them to adopt the “by-subject” mode to use EMI in individual subjects. We are open-minded and will continue to listen before finalizing the arrangement in this regard.
Some stakeholders have recently voiced concerns over the above arrangements, in particular the “by class” arrangement. I would like to clarify that the “by class” arrangement is only one of the many arrangements that schools could adopt. Schools meeting the criteria for EMI teaching should take into account their own circumstances and students’ needs to put in place the appropriate arrangements in a flexible manner. Hence, we expect to see a situation under which different schools would adopt different combinations of medium-of-instruction arrangements based on what is best for their students.
We will report to the Education Panel of the Legislative Council in January 2009, followed by further consultation with stakeholders on the implementation details. We aim to finalize the details by the middle of next year and to implement the fine-tuning arrangements in the 2010/11 school year.
Effective teaching and learning of the English subject is fundamental in enhancing students’ proficiency in the language. To address the concern of the community about the English proficiency of our students, we are, at tandem, exploring ways to improve English teaching and learning in primary schools, so as to help our students build a solid foundation in their early years of education.
Our long term goal is to “uphold mother-tongue teaching and enhance proficiency in Chinese and English”. Finding the right arrangement to achieve this goal is by no means an easy task. We would welcome more discussion with the community on how this could be achieved. And any views you may have would be very welcome. I sincerely appeal to the education sector, parents and the public at large to make concerted efforts in playing their part to make the fine-tuning work in our pursuit of quality education. In doing so we must have the interest of students as our primary concern.