16 February 2009 (Monday)
Forum on Fine-tuning the Medium of Instruction for Secondary Schools
between the Secretary for Education and Heads of Secondary Schools
Speech by Mr Michael M Y Suen, GBS, JP
Secretary for Education
“From a macro perspective”—Adhering to Education Principles
“From a micro perspective” —Catering for Schools’ Circumstances
I have been engaged in discussion on the medium of instruction (MOI) with stakeholders for a fairly long time. In mid-January this year, we briefed the Legislative Council Panel on Education on the proposed MOI fine-tuning framework after consultation with stakeholders. The framework has aroused heated debate in the community and the public generally support the rationale and objectives of fine-tuning. Today, I would like to share our views and thoughts with you.
Education is to equip our next generation for all-round development, learning how to learn, and developing the skills and attitudes for life-long learning. Education also aims to cultivate talents for sustainable development of society. Our education system has to progress in tandem with social needs. That means the MOI arrangements for secondary schools are no exception.
Hong Kong is the only region in our country where both Chinese and English are the statutory official languages. Our country has high expectations for Hong Kong to play a role as a global financial centre. Against this background, it is essential for our students to understand national traditions, develop a global vision and acquire a high proficiency in both Chinese and English in order to contribute to our society and country in future.
Our education policy should be: “all for students, for all students and for the good of all students”. Not only do I share the same view, but also adhere to this tenet in formulating our education policy.
In the course of fine-tuning the MOI arrangements, I have to consider things from two perspectives. First, “from a macro perspective”, I have to adhere to the education principles whereby the learning interests of all students are the prime concern. Second, “from a micro perspective”, I have to cater for schools’ circumstances in order to respond to and balance the demands of different parties. In this connection, there are six crucial factors for me to consider as follows:
(a) Any arrangement made must be in the best interest of students.
(b) Mother-tongue teaching has borne fruits. “Upholding mother-tongue teaching and enhancing proficiency in Chinese and English” is a correct policy objective.
(c) To cater for student diversity and learning effectiveness, we should uphold the basic criteria of “student ability”, “teacher capability” and “support measures for schools” for adopting English as the medium of instruction (EMI) at junior secondary levels as recommended in the “Report on Review of Medium of Instruction for Secondary Schools and Secondary School Places Allocation” published by the Education Commission (EC) in 2005.
(d) Schools are in the best position to keep track of students’ learning progress and teach according to diverse abilities. Accordingly, schools meeting the above criteria should be allowed to determine their professional school-based MOI arrangements.
(e) Schools must maintain high transparency in their school-based MOI policy so that parents are well-informed of the MOI arrangement for each subject and have their right to know protected.
(f) Upon implementation of the fine-tuning arrangements, the Education Bureau will monitor students’ learning effectiveness under the current “School Development and Accountability” (SDA) framework.
Implementation of the Fine-tuning Arrangements
In view of the above considerations, there will be no more rigid classification of schools into Chinese-medium (CMI) schools and EMI schools under our proposed fine-tuning framework. Nevertheless, I have to reiterate that our aim is not to overturn the MOI policy. The existing policy has laid the foundation for mother-tongue teaching, which is effective in facilitating students’ learning of content subjects. Over the last decade, many CMI schools have done an excellent job in enhancing the teaching efficacy, thus improving students’ learning ability and promoting their all-round development successfully. At present, however, primary schools mainly adopt CMI, whereas EMI dominates senior secondary and post-secondary education. So, while promoting mother-tongue teaching, we hope to enable each and every junior secondary student of all schools to have more exposure to English inside the classroom for a smooth transition to senior secondary and post-secondary education.
MOI Options Available for Schools
Under the fine-tuning arrangements, we will adopt a six-year planning cycle based on schools’ Secondary 1 (S1) intake data in the Secondary School Places Allocation exercise over the previous two years so that schools can formulate their school-based MOI arrangements upon S1 admission with regard to the learning progress and needs of their new entrants. Schools may determine the suitable modes of MOI arrangements with reference to the abilities, interest and expectations of students (such as the desire to learn daily conversational English, practical workplace English or academic English), as well as specific circumstances (including the learning effectiveness of students, the capability of teachers, their school-based language policy, other support measures, etc.)
According to the fine-tuning arrangements, all schools are allowed to conduct English-medium extended learning activities (ELA) up to a proportion of 25% of the total lesson time while teaching primarily in mother tongue. Besides, with students’ learning effectiveness as the prime concern, schools may adopt EMI teaching for some key learning areas or subjects up to a maximum of 25% of the total lesson time, depending on the availability of teachers and other support measures. This is known as the “allocation of time to subjects” arrangement.
In addition, under the “differential teaching and student-focused” principle, if schools have admitted a critical mass of students capable of learning in both mother tongue and English, they will have more options to use mother tongue or English in teaching subjects other than Chinese Language and English Language.
In other words, schools meeting the criterion of “student ability” may determine their MOI arrangements “by class”, “by group”, “by subject”, “by session” and/or any combination of the above, having regard to its own circumstances (including the needs of students, the capability of teachers, school-based support measures, etc). As such, the spectrum of MOI arrangements could be as wide as possible, including total CMI, EMI or ELA in a few subjects, EMI by immersion, etc.
The fine-tuned MOI package provides the basic and additional options for schools to adopt the most suitable MOI under the three criteria of “student ability”, “teacher capability” and “support measures for schools”.
I would like to take this opportunity today to explain some key features of the MOI fine-tuning.
“25% Cap on Lesson Time”
The so-called “25% cap on lesson time” refers to the percentage of the total lesson time allowed for ELA or under the “allocation of time to subjects” arrangement excluding the lesson time for the English Language subject.
“Allocation of Time to Subjects”
In principle, all schools are allowed to opt for the “allocation of time to subjects” arrangement. However, to safeguard learning effectiveness, we need to provide suitable guidelines for schools to decide whether and in which subject(s) they will adopt this arrangement, having regard to such circumstances as their school-based language policy, a coherent junior secondary education, the needs and progress of students, and the capability and readiness of teachers. To recap, the prime consideration for schools is that the teaching and learning effectiveness must not be undermined.
MOI Arrangements to be Announced by Schools
To protect parents’ right to know, schools should make known their education philosophy and characteristics (including MOI arrangement and details) so that parents can understand how schools foster good citizenship of students and make an informed choice of school for their children. Here I would like to call upon everyone of you, as a school head, to avoid just using the number of approved classes to account for your school-based MOI arrangements, or using such simple figures as recruitment propaganda, which will lead to unhealthy competition. For easy reference of parents, we are now devising a standard template for each school to specify the choice of CMI or EMI in teaching each subject, including some of the lesson time planned for ELA in subjects taught in CMI. We will also liaise with the Committee on Home-School Co-operation to see how schools can explain their school-based language policy and the MOI arrangement for each subject in the Secondary School Profiles published by the Committee in order to provide clear information for parents.
Reduction of Labelling Effect
Some people are concerned about the possible labelling effect of the fine-tuning arrangements in schools. The proposal allows schools to adopt EMI teaching in different classes and subjects. In other words, the choice and number of subjects taught in EMI may vary between classes within individual schools as well as among schools. Even for schools meeting the criteria for EMI teaching, they will still have to make reference to their own circumstances to put in place the suitable MOI arrangements in a flexible manner. As to classes adopting mother-tongue teaching, they are also encouraged to conduct ELA in different modes to enhance English learning. As a result, there would be diversified MOI arrangements across the school sector, and any simple labelling would gradually be reduced.
Prerequisites of Successful Fine-tuning
Without an energetic, committed and professional force of teachers, the fine-tuning would not yield its expected benefits. Some people have pointed out the possible increase in teachers’ workload arising from the fine-tuning. As a matter of fact, our teachers have been effective in adopting diverse different teaching pedagogies for different classes/groups. Teachers of junior secondary levels teaching content subjects have also been preparing students to bridge over to the senior secondary curriculum in English in one form or another including ELA while teaching primarily in CMI. Besides, most schools have already adopted different MOI for different classes at senior secondary levels with regard to the abilities of students.
We have to reiterate, of course, that schools will not be required to switch to EMI teaching for certain content subjects under the proposed fine-tuning. The arrangements are subject to school-based professional decision. Schools should give careful consideration to their actual circumstances in choosing the suitable school-based MOI arrangements. Here I would like to call upon every one of you, as a school head, to maintain close communication with your professional teaching team, take their views into full consideration and work together to map out the suitable school-based MOI arrangements for the sake of our students.
To enhance the quality of teaching in the classroom, we will continue to accord priority to teachers’ capacity-building. The MOI adopted by a school should be in line with its school-based MOI policy. We plan to organise a series of workshops for schools in the coming one or two months so that they can maintain a coherent and integral curriculum in line with their overall learning and teaching objectives when determining the MOI at junior secondary levels. Moreover, we plan to provide the necessary training and professional support for content subject teachers who are switching from CMI to EMI teaching. Supply teachers will be made available as well. We will also conduct a large-scale longitudinal study on ELA to provide professional support for about 200 schools. The total expenditure involved is about $640 million.
Improvement of Students’ English Proficiency
To improve the teaching and learning of English in primary schools, we will provide teachers with professional training in English teaching and enhanced school-based support, set up a network of volunteers to conduct English activities in schools with students, co-ordinate and strengthen efforts of individual schools currently made under different platforms. We will also provide relevant training to equip parents and voluntary workers with the necessary skills. The total expenditure involved is about $310 million. To attract those who aspire to join the teaching profession, we plan to establish a scholarship, which will incur a recurrent cost of about $14 million per annum.
We will hold further discussion with you and other stakeholders on the implementation details of the fine-tuning arrangements, which are expected to take effect from the 2010/11 school year. Bearing in mind that schools should be given sufficient time to consult their own stakeholders on the school-based MOI arrangements under the prescribed criteria and that parents should be informed of the arrangements in advance for the purpose of S1 admission for the relevant school year, we plan to finalise the fine-tuned MOI framework by end-May this year.
Change is always full of challenges. But only challenges can move us forwards. The road ahead may not be a smooth one, and we may encounter some difficulties in the development of the school-based MOI policy. But this is also an opportunity for steeling ourselves. I believe that with concerted efforts, we will finally conquer the mountain. What awaits us at the top will be a boundless stretch of beautiful scenery.