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DE's speech at education conference (English only)


The following is the speech by the Director of Education, Mr Matthew Cheung Kin-chung, at the Opening Ceremony of the annual International Language in Education Conference (ILEC) today (December 13):

Professor Hayhoe, Dr Storey,

Distinguished Guests, Ladies and Gentlemen,

I am delighted to have been invited to this Opening Ceremony of the annual International Language in Education Conference (ILEC). On behalf of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (SAR) Government, let me first extend a very warm welcome to all the participants, especially those from overseas. For my overseas friends here, you may have realised that Hong Kong, like most parts of the world, is undergoing fundamental changes. Globalisation and development of the knowledge-based society have brought many opportunities as well as challenges to Hong Kong. In the social environment of the new era, creativity and the abilities of self-learning are pre-requisites in life and at the workplace. To cope with these social changes, corresponding reform must be made in the education system to enable students to develop their potential and to lead a rich life in the new century.

In Hong Kong, both Chinese and English are highly valued. The importance attached to language in Hong Kong is one very close to my heart and of fundamental importance to Hong Kong's existence and future. The issues and practices involved in language education are particularly pertinent for consideration and debate at this point in time and one that the Government of the Hong Kong SAR attaches great importance to. The need to acquire good language skills is an integral part of education. Hong Kong's competitiveness in the future depends, to a large extent, on a workforce that has effective communication skills both in Chinese and English.

It is our policy to promote and enable our students and workforce to be bi-literate and tri-lingual. Hong Kong is a cosmopolitan city and needs to promote a wider use of basic English. We have launched campaigns to enhance awareness of the importance of high standards in English in the workplace, and to promote the use of English in the community. We have provided incentive grants for in-service English language training programmes and encouraged employers to set minimum English competency levels for their employees.

We are now conducting a comprehensive review of the current curriculum, the quality of teachers, teaching methods and the social environment in our efforts to upgrade the language ability of our students. Since the 1998-99 school year, the Native-speaking English Teacher (NET) scheme has been operating in secondary schools. Although the scheme encountered some teething problems, it has gradually brought about a new culture of English language teaching in our schools. Effective language learning should start as early as possible. From the start of the next school year, we will strengthen English language teaching in primary schools with various initiatives. Our targets include providing native English-speaking teachers or English language teaching assistants in every primary school and the organisation of more extra-curricular activities using English.

We have not been negligent of Chinese language, which plays a fundamental role in learning. We recognise that second language learning builds on the basis of students' mother tongue. The main purposes of language education are to enhance the development of students' language proficiency, helping them master standard Chinese in writing, speak Cantonese and Putonghua fluently and properly, appreciate the beauty of language and develop a long-term interest in language learning. Language education also aims to nurture students' high-order thinking skills and contribute to their whole-person development. To work towards our tri-lingual target, we have also strengthened the teaching of Putonghua, where over 2700 of our local teachers have undergone training in the teaching of Putonghua.

The challenges facing our schools in language teaching are considerable. Hong Kong is a relatively homogeneous society in its linguistic setting. Cantonese is widely used as the lingua franca among the vast majority of our students here. As such, we constantly need to reflect on effective strategies for our students to develop their linguistic competence. It is essential that we develop in students positive attitudes, good reading skills and habits for lifelong learning. We need to encourage wider participation of parents and the community, and enhance the language learning environment. We will improve the pedagogy of teachers through strengthening continuous professional development, and strengthen the curriculum and instructional leadership in language education among key personnel in schools. Language teacher support will be further enhanced through the District Teacher Network scheme and the use of information technology in language pedagogy. These strategies will work towards lifelong learning, life-wide learning and society-wide mobilisation.

Reflection and research on language in education are crucial to bringing about improvement in language learning outcomes. Researchers in the field have often asked what really goes on that facilitates learning. The traditional view is that the teacher is there to instruct and the student to absorb the knowledge transmitted. However, many researchers and reflective practitioners have argued that knowledge and ready-made ideas cannot be simply meted out. Today, research into strategies of teacher-student communication indicates that active student participation in classroom activities can contribute towards developing students' language competence. It is also held that peer interaction is productive, and is vital for cognitive development. Implications of research findings for the language classroom point to the benefits to be derived if students are given the opportunity, through planned activities, to be engaged in meaningful acts of communication as these can enhance mental processes. The important role that ILEC has performed in this instance is to realise this splendid opportunity for professional communication among the many academics, educationalists and practitioners who take part every year. Your deliberations in these few days will, I am sure, throw much valuable light on new developments and good practices both in the school classroom and in the teacher education classroom, as well as on the interface between theory and practice in language education.

ILEC provides a unique forum for educational experts from all over the world to share their expertise and experience. The challenges that teachers and educators face in their daily endeavours to fill the gaps between educational theory and good classroom practice are universal, and there is much to be gained in an international conference such as this one. Whilst we are able to welcome distinguished and learned guests from other countries, they in turn have the opportunity to listen to, learn about and discuss Hong Kong's achievements as well as the most pressing issues and problems which face us in Hong Kong. In this context, I hope we will be able to address a number of practical issues, which will be of interest to those seeking to develop new orientations in language pedagogy to meet the needs of the 21st century.

Ladies and gentlemen, language in education is a complex subject. There are more questions than answers. The richness of scholarship and experience possessed by those present here today assures us that this three-day conference will be a highly stimulating and rewarding one. I am sure that through conferences like this and through professional dialogue and active sharing, we will be able to reach our goals of enhancing the effectiveness of language pedagogy. I would like to congratulate the organisers of this conference on selecting the Theme "Reflecting on Language in Education", which is so contemporary and yet so timeless - so full of intellectual excitement and practical relevance. At the same time, the emphasis on motivation in language learning - the major sub-theme of the conference, is especially relevant to the Hong Kong context and may provide the key to overcoming some of the problems our teachers face every day in the classroom. The programme for the conference features an unusually rich feast of papers and workshops. I wish you all an enjoyable and fruitful three days.

Thank you.

End/Thursday, December 13, 2001


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