Following is a speech by the Secretary for Education and Manpower, Mr Joseph W P Wong, at the motion debate on "Promoting extensive use of English" in the Legislative Council today (Wednesday):
I would first of all thank the Honourable James Tien for introducing today's motion on "Promoting Extensive use of English". As one of the most open and freest economies of the world, Hong Kong thrives on international trade, and has built the bulk of its wealth on a highly competent services sector. Underpinning Hong Kong's strength as a service economy with an international outlook, as well as a knowledge-based society is the ability of our people to communicate with the rest of the world. English is indisputably the language of international trade and finance, and is also the most commonly used language in science and technology and the internet. The importance of maintaining a high standard of English, and to maintain its extensive use in Hong Kong could not be over-emphasised.
We want our students to be biliterate in English and Chinese and trilingual in English, Chinese and Putonghua. I wish to assure Members that, despite the perception of some of the international press that the status of English has been watered down after the transfer of sovereignty, there is no question about the Government's determination to uphold the importance of English, in order to further bolster Hong Kong's position as a centre of international commerce and finance. This determination is only re-inforced after the transition of sovereignty. I will explain our efforts in five areas, namely:
- raising the standard of English teachers;
- improving the learning of English in schools;
- raising the standard of English in universities;
- maintaining the use of English in Government; and
- raising the standard of English in the workplace.
I. Raising the Standard of English Teachers
(a) Language Benchmarking
In keeping with the importance accorded to English, the Government has allocated substantial resources in the past few years, and initiated a comprehensive package of measures to enhance the teaching and learning of English in schools and universities, and the professional development of English teachers. First and foremost in our efforts to raise the standard of language teaching is to require all language teachers, including teachers of English, to attain language benchmarks. We will require all new teachers joining the profession in the year 2000 to meet the benchmarks, while all serving language teachers are required to meet the benchmarks latest by 2005 and all other teachers latest by 2008. Teachers may opt to attain the benchmarks by either attending training courses or taking benchmark assessments administered by the Hong Kong Examinations Authority. We have earmarked around $29 million each year for the next ten years to provide English language training courses for all serving English teachers who require training to reach the benchmark.
In the area of teacher training, the tertiary institutions and the Education Department are providing a wide range of training courses for English teachers. These include:
* Full-time, part-time, pre-service and in-service undergraduate and postgraduate courses in education specialising in English Language, and Teaching English as a Foreign or Second Language. Some of the pre-service programmes include an element of immersion training for student teachers in the United Kingdom and Canada;
* In-service full-time block release courses for serving English teachers. We will be spending $240 million in the three school years from 1998 to 2001;
* Short courses run by the Education Department to enhance the competence of English teachers. We will be spending $38 million in the three school years from 1998 to 2001; and
* Primary English Teachers Oral Proficiency Courses, funded by the Language Fund which ran from February 1995 to February 1998. Around 2,700 teachers participated in the course. We will consider more such courses in the future.
We are now facing a situation where only about half of our English teachers in the schools are subject-trained, and many of the graduates with good English standards have chosen other professions instead of teaching English in schools. A point raised by Mr Cheung Man-kwong. I have asked the Standing Committee on Language Education and Research (SCOLAR) to consider how best to remedy the situation, if necessary, with the help of the Language Fund, on a long term basis.
The provision of resources and support facilities is an important element in our package of teacher development measures. The Language Resource Centre for Teachers was established last year to improve support services for language teaching and learning in schools, with particular emphasis on the application of computer technology. We have also invested more than $47 million in Telenex, an electronic support network developed by the University of Hong Kong. This network provides web-based help-desk type services for school English teachers, and gives them a common platform for exchanging views and questions on the teaching of English. Response to Telenex has been very positive and to date, it covers a large majority of secondary schools, with more than 3 000 secondary and primary school teachers connected to it.
II. Improving the learning of English in schools
(a) More support for Chinese Medium Schools
There are concerns, quite understandably, about the standard of English in our schools with the implementation of the medium of instruction policy starting from the current school year. Let me clarify once again that the promotion of mother-tongue teaching is not intended to undermine the learning of English. Our observation after the first nine months is that the teaching of English has not slackened in the Chinese medium (CMI) schools. In fact, some of them have become more conscious of the need to guard against any decline in English due to lesser exposure to the language, and are therefore making extra efforts in the teaching of English as a core subject. All CMI schools are being provided with additional English teachers, averaging two per school. They are also provided with extra resources to purchase equipment and library books [recurrent grants averaging $3 million annually]. Furthermore, we allocated $57 million last year to set up an "English Corner" in each school and to organise additional school-based English enhancement programmes.
(b) Native-speaking English Teacher Scheme
We launched the Native-speaking English Teacher Scheme in the 1998-99 school year. With a financial commitment of around $1.5 billion over five years, the scheme aims to enhance the standard of English teaching and to foster a genuine English-speaking environment in our schools by introducing at least one NET into each public-sector secondary school. There are now 387 NETs in post, and we are generally satisfied that the scheme is achieving its objective. In the meantime, the Quality Education Fund (QEF) and the Language Fund have been supporting trial schemes of NETs in primary schools, and initial results are encouraging. The QEF will stand ready to consider funding applications from individual primary schools wishing to employ a NET.
(c) English Language Projects
The Language Fund and the QEF have between them allocated close to $ 271 million over the past five years to support 163 English language projects to date. The projects cover a wide spectrum, including school-based activities, teacher training programmes, establishing language laboratories, developing resource materials, intensive English Language Programmes for students, English Language Teaching Assistants in schools, vocational English projects and radio programmes. The totality of these projects is making a significant and positive impact on the teaching and learning of English in our schools.
III. Raising the Standard of English in Universities
English is the predominant medium of instruction in our universities, and we have no intention to change this. We are aware of the concerns of some employers about the English standards of our university graduates, and we will ensure that university students are up to par in English at the points of 'entry' and 'exit'. To do this, the Government has announced that as a rule we will not fund the tuition cost of any candidates who are admitted to university without a pass in English in the Hong Kong Advanced Level Examination unless they genuinely excel in other subjects. We will also ask the University Grants Committee and the tertiary institutions to seriously consider requiring students to sit for an English test to ascertain that they are adequately competent in English for employment purpose. The test should be conducted before graduation and the results should be included in the transcripts of the graduates.
In the meantime, the Government has been providing grants to the tertiary institutions for the purpose of language enhancement. In the last triennium (1995-1998), $210 million was committed to language training, of which a large portion was for the English enhancement of undergraduates. For the current triennium (1998-2000), $262 million has been earmarked for undergraduate language training.
IV. Maintaining the Use of English in Government
I would like to assure Members that in tandem with promoting the use of Chinese, English is still extensively used within the Government. For obvious reasons, Government officials now have more occasion to speak in Chinese in public than, say, five years ago, but internal communication and correspondence in Government is still predominantly in English.
In keeping with the status of English as one of the two official languages in Hong Kong, it is Government's policy that all written materials meant for members of the public, such as Government notices, publicity and information literature, are printed in both languages; and we advise all the other public and statutory bodies to do the same. It is also our policy to maintain a fully biliterate civil service. The Civil Service Training and Development Institute provides a wide range of English training courses for civil servants to meet job needs and to ensure that they possess a high level of competency when communicating at work.
V. Raising the Standard of English in the Workplace
Whatever we do in our schools and universities, it is in the workplace that one's English is put to the ultimate test. The English standard of our working population is therefore one of our major concerns. In this respect, I would call upon the business and professional sectors to play a more proactive part in training up their employees and members of their professions. I will also ask SCOLAR to consider how best the Government could offer assistance. Members will be pleased to learn that the Government will consider launching a major campaign in partnership with the business sector this year to raise the awareness for higher standards of English in the workplace and to encourage our workers to continuously make improvements in their English proficiency. The Language Fund, for example, may be used to offer matching grants to any chamber of commerce, trade association or professional body who wishes to provide English training for their employees or working members. We are having useful discussions with some representatives of the business sector and the professional bodies. I hope we can finalise the arrangements shortly.
With the strong growth in local popular culture and a sophisticated local film and entertainment industry, it is understandable that the average young person and average worker in Hong Kong would fail to see the relevance of English in their daily lives. After all, Hong Kong has always been a predominantly Chinese society with Cantonese as our mother tongue. However, if we were to maintain Hong Kong's position as a trading, financial, and technology centre as well as a major tourist destination in this region, our community must not allow the importance of English to slip from our daily lives. In this respect, all sectors in our community - the education sector, the business sector, the mass media, the entertainment industry and even parents must work hand in hand. For example, our parents must realise that asking their children to learn English in schools is not enough. That improper English and bad habits is worse. I mentioned our proposal to launch a campaign to promote the learning of English for our workers. The Government stands ready to consider any proposals that aim to raise the profile of English in our community, and, if necessary, to allocate resources for this purpose.
End/Wednesday, May 26, 1999