5 January 2009 (Monday)
Fine-tuning the Medium of Instruction for Secondary Schools –
Briefing for Home-School Organisations and Parent Groups
(Translated from the Chinese original)
Speech by Mr Michael M Y Suen, GBS, JP
Secretary for Education
Chairman Wong (Po-choi), Representatives of Home-School Organisations and Parent Groups,
First of all, I would like to take this opportunity to wish you all good health and every success in the New Year.
Thank you for taking time out of your busy schedule to be here today. It is only natural that parents care about the well-being of their children, but you have brought your parental love to a higher plane by taking a step further to join the home-school organisations and parent groups. This spirit does not only deserve our admiration and respect but also reinforces our belief that parents’ participation and support form an integral part of policy-making.
Today, I would like to hear your views, from a parent’s perspective, on the overall direction and implementation details of fine-tuning the medium of instruction (MOI) arrangements.
I believe we all agree that a suitable MOI should be adopted in order to further enhance students’ interest and engagement in learning. Try to imagine what would happen if students incapable of learning in English are required to learn subject knowledge entirely in English during the key learning stages. An excessive demand like this will only have an adverse effect on their development. From this point of view, none would doubt the advantages and necessity of mother-tongue teaching.
However, Hong Kong is part of China as well as a world city playing a role as an international financial centre. Besides possessing a good standard in Chinese, our younger generation should also be proficient in English in order to dedicate themselves to the development of our country. Meanwhile, the new academic structure for senior secondary education to be implemented this September is designed to provide a wide and broad curriculum for students. It will help students achieve all-round development, learn how to learn and develop the necessary attitudes and skills for life-long learning so as to meet the needs of an ever-changing society in the 21st century. To this end, we must teach our students how to collate information, summarise and analyse the issues involved, and articulate their views and opinions. A good mastery of both Chinese and English will certainly help them pursue life-long learning.
To learn a foreign language effectively hinges on two important elements, namely motivation and language environment.
During my visit to Finland last year, I fully realised how these two elements worked. In a country that relies on foreign trade, the Finnish people understand that they have to use English, a common language in the world of international business if they want to succeed in selling their mobile phones to other countries. They are thus driven to improve their English.
I also visited Finnish universities, secondary and primary schools where I talked with the students there. Although they spoke English with a Finnish accent, there was no communication barrier between us. So what secret is there? It is surprisingly simple and interesting: they learn English by watching television. The local television stations buy television programmes from English-speaking countries and put on Finnish subtitles but not using NICAM. This has provided a language-rich environment for Finnish children to learn English in a relaxed atmosphere from an early age. I remember I had similar experience in my young days – I learnt English through listening to English songs.
Back to Hong Kong , it is the only region in our country where both Chinese and English are the statutory official languages. Hong Kong ’s livelihood depends on financial, economic and commercial activities, in which English is also the major medium of communication. Against this background, we have to create favourable conditions for our children to learn English effectively while adopting mother-tongue teaching.
It has come to our notice that the majority of children in Hong Kong lack an English-rich environment. Our schools, on the other hand, are in the best position to create such an environment or even further enhance it with readiness. Therefore, in fine-tuning the MOI arrangements, we have made special efforts to enhance the language environment.
During my earlier visit to a popular Chinese-medium (CMI) school, some of the parent representatives told me that they were happy with the school’s policy on mother-tongue teaching as it had stimulated their children’s learning interest and motivation. They believed that if the school had used English to teach all subjects at junior secondary levels, their children would not have been able to adapt well, and their learning progress would have been hampered. In spite of this, they did not hesitate to say that they wished their children could also have more opportunities to learn subject knowledge in English so as to boost their confidence and motivation in using English. They then explicitly stated that this was exactly the reason why some of their friends sent their children to English-medium (EMI) schools, even though they could conceive difficulties their children would have to face when learning in English.
As a parent with similar experience years ago, I have gone through what you are going through now. I can share your mixed feelings today. My children have grown up and set up their own families. . I have two grandchildren who are proceeding to schooling age. Their learning pace and potential really amaze me, so I understand that the prime concern of parents is on how to provide the most suitable education for nurturing their children. I fully understand that parents want their children to acquire subject knowledge effectively while at the same time to be proficient in English. In fine-tuning the MOI arrangements, I am always mindful of the expectations of parents and the pains they are taking.
Since I took office in mid-2007, I have had formal meetings with the education sector as well as casual conversations with individual persons, during which we have often been asked to pay more attention to the issue of MOI. Therefore, I began to study the MOI policy at junior secondary levels that autumn, and at the year end, I announced our intention to fine-tune the MOI arrangements. Following the announcement, there were supportive comments from both the education sector and the community at large. I have noted a positive attitude in the discussion of “fine-tuning” since the term was first introduced.
Most stakeholders acknowledge the need to fine-tune the MOI arrangements. The objective is to enable each and every junior secondary student in the secondary schools to progressively have more opportunities to learn subject knowledge in English, thus increasing their exposure to English and smoothing their transition to learning in English at senior secondary and post-secondary levels, or to the career needs after graduation from secondary school.
Under the proposed fine-tuning, the bifurcation of schools into CMI and EMI schools would disappear. According to their figures of secondary school places allocation in the past two years, schools would be informed of the number of Secondary One classes with full flexibility in adopting the most appropriate MOI for their students based on school-based professional judgment. That is, schools would not be rigidly required to use English entirely as the MOI for these classes. Schools may adopt their appropriate MOI arrangements such as by class, by group, by subject and by lesson time based on their own situations including students’ needs and learning progress in these classes, teacher capability and other school support measures.
For the remaining classes, mother-tongue teaching will be adopted mainly. Nevertheless, we will enhance the English language environment for these students. Schools will be allowed to use English at a maximum of 25% of the total lesson time, excluding English Language, at Secondary 1, 2 and 3 levels to teach the content subjects in order to increase the exposure of students to English in the classroom.
We are going to brief the Education Panel of the Legislative Council on 15 January 2009, with a view to finalising the fine-tuned arrangements by mid-2009 for implementation in the 2010/11 school year, starting from Secondary 1.
In addition, we will endeavour to enhance the learning and teaching of English in primary schools for our students to build a solid foundation in English. We are well prepared for this, and will announce the measures for further enhancing English learning and teaching.
As parents, of course, all of you would be concerned about how we can ensure that the fine-tuning will benefit the students. We plan to achieve quality assurance through various channels, including requiring schools to report to the Education Bureau their MOI arrangements for individual subjects. We will also continue to conduct external school reviews and focused inspections to help schools examine their effectiveness to ensure that the fine-tuned MOI arrangements are implemented in an orderly manner. We would make it public for any non-compliance from schools. Moreover, schools will be required to release their MOI information in a standardized manner. We are now devising a format for the School Profile to set out the MOI arrangements for individual subjects of schools for parents’ reference.
In order to achieve better results, we will deploy the necessary resources for the fine-tuning. Supply teachers will be provided to schools so that regular teachers can attend training courses to enhance their skills of teaching subject knowledge in English.
The proposed fine-tuning framework has been developed through discussion with various stakeholders for more than one year. We have given due consideration to their concerns and balanced the views of different parties. Under the fine-tuned arrangements, students will be able to learn in an appropriate medium of instruction, benefiting from the advantages of mother-tongue teaching and at the same time enjoying a smooth transition to the curriculum taught in English at senior secondary and post-secondary levels.
Schools will adopt the diversified modes of teaching in mother-tongue and English, with regard to the students’ situation and learning progress, the schools’ professional judgement and experience, the teaching team and actual conditions of schools. For instance, under the fine-tuned arrangements, classes which are supposed to be using English as the MOI may also use Chinese for teaching school-based subjects like liberal education, life education, ethics and religious education. Similarly, classes which are supposed to be using mother-tongue as the major MOI will be allowed to have more opportunities to learn subject-related vocabulary and reference materials in English.
About two weeks ago, when I went to Taikoo Shing to pick up my mother-in-law for lunch, a young couple came up to me with their two lovely kids. They told me about their elder daughter entering a primary school. At this point, they touched on the issue of the fine-tuning of the MOI arrangements. I had never met them before. They were just on their way to shopping and, seeing such a good chance to express their views, they did not hesitate to do so. This reflects the concern of our society about the MOI. Before we said goodbye, the couple asked me not to give up the fine-tuning for the sake of our next generation.
After discussion for more than one year, it is now the right time to finalise the fine-tuning proposal. The changes involved will bring challenges to schools, students and parents, but challenges can lead to improvement. Changes do not happen overnight. I am confident that after the implementation of the two-pronged approach of enhancing the learning and teaching of English as well as fine-tuning the MOI arrangements, both the learning effectiveness and English proficiency of Hong Kong students will be improved in the long run.
Today, I appeal to you all, as parents, to maintain an open and impartial attitude towards such changes, make the most of the fine-tuning opportunity, and cast a vote of confidence in the government and the schools. Let the schools exercise their professional judgement in determining the suitable MOI arrangements for their students.
Whether the fine-tuning will be a success and whether our next generation will be proficient in both Chinese and English does not depend on me alone. Nor can the Education Bureau or the government achieve this aim by themselves. To realise our vision, we need the commitment of the whole education sector as well as the concerted efforts of you parents and the community at large.