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LCQ1: English Language teaching

     Following is a question by the Hon Michael Tien and a reply by the Secretary for Education, Mr Eddie Ng Hak-kim, in the Legislative Council today (December 12):


     It has been learnt that the average overall band score of Hong Kong's candidates taking the "Academic module" test of the International English Language Testing System (IELTS) in 2011 was 6.4, which was the same as the score in 2007. However, during the same period of time, the scores attained by candidates from Taiwan, South Korea and Malaysia had increased by 0.2 to 0.3, getting closer to or even surpassing that of Hong Kong. This phenomenon indicates that the English proficiency of Hong Kong's candidates has not made any progress in recent years, but the candidates from neighbouring places have made progress. There are comments that Hong Kong people's English proficiency is very important for Hong Kong to maintain her status as a cosmopolitan city and thus the authorities should pay close attention to the quality of English language teaching and should create bilingual environment. In this connection, will the Government inform this Council:

(a) as it has been found in research that, compared with a large class of 38 or more students, teaching English in a small class of 21 to 25 students can provide more opportunities for teachers and students to converse in English, and students also participate in class activities more actively, whether the authorities will consider setting a ceiling of 25 students for English classes so as to enhance the quality of English language teaching; if not, of the reasons for that;

(b) given that during my tenure as the Chairman of the Standing Committee on Language Education and Research, I found that the majority of students lacked the opportunities to be immersed in an English language environment, and English teachers in secondary schools currently had to teach more than 30 sessions per week, making it difficult to improve teaching in class, and some members from the education sector have also reflected to me that English teachers teaching 20 sessions per week will produce the most ideal teaching effect, whether the authorities will consider setting a reference benchmark of teaching around 20 sessions per week for English teachers of secondary schools; if not, of the reasons for that; and

(c) as it is provided in section 3 of the Official Languages Ordinance that both the English and Chinese languages are the official languages of Hong Kong and possess equal status, and Hong Kong is a cosmopolitan city, but some government documents are currently available only in Chinese without an English version (e.g. the minutes of District Council meetings), whether the authorities will conduct a survey to find out if members of the public are supportive of the Government requiring all text displayed to the public (including notices, signage, names of buildings, etc.) be available in both Chinese and English, so as to create a bilingual environment; if not, of the reasons for that?



     Figures show that the English standard of our students has been steady over the last few years and compares favourably with our counterparts in nearby regions. In the last few years, many of our university graduates, who have taken part in the International English Language Testing System (IELTS), have attained Level 6 (i.e. Competent Users) or above. Hong Kong has been able to maintain a high ranking in the 2011 test and is way ahead other places such as South Korea and Taiwan.

     Our reply to Hon Tien's three questions is as follows:

(a) The average class size of public sector secondary schools is 33.4 and most of them are implementing split-class teaching at the junior levels when conducting English lessons. The average size of such groups is 18-28 students.

     The overall student-to-teacher ratio in public sector secondary schools has improved significantly in the past few years from 18.0:1 in the 2005/06 school year to 15.3:1 in the 2011/12 school year. These figures are comparable to those of other developed regions in Asia. To address their needs, schools are advised to deploy the resources allocated flexibly to enhance learning and teaching effectiveness. Further, we have relaxed the criterion for approving S1 classes in the 2012/13 school year through adjusting the basis for calculating the number of approved S1 classes by reducing the number of students in each class from 30 to 25, enabling schools to operate three S1 classes with an intake of 51 S1 students. The relaxation of the criterion for approving S1 classes actually further improves the teacher-to-student ratio of those schools facing the pressure of under-enrolment. We firmly believe that schools will make good use of the opportunity, and better deploy the resources available for split-class teaching according to the learning objectives they set and the abilities of their students to improve learning and teaching effectiveness in the classroom.

     In fact, the existing English Language curriculum framework allows space and flexibility for schools to provide a variety of activities to enhance studentsˇ¦ learning motivation and develop the integrated use of the four skills of listening, speaking, reading and writing. The learning of English is not confined to the classroom only. Through collaboration between local English teachers and native-speaking English teachers, an English-rich environment in schools can be created. Further, over the past years, the Standing Committee on Language Education and Research (SCOLAR) has also collaborated with different organisations in the community to create a conducive language environment and conduct activities to further enhance students' interest in learning English and the learning effectiveness.

(b) We are aware that some teachers may have a teaching load of more than 30 sessions per week, but as mentioned earlier, most English lessons are conducted in split-class mode. We also encourage schools to deploy the resources disbursed flexibly to support teachers through such means as employing extra staff and hiring outside services. In addition, we have, over the past few years, introduced an array of support measures to help English teachers to improve classroom teaching, including:

(1) providing in-service professional development programmes;

(2) providing on-site school-based support services (e.g. services provided by the Language Learning Support Section and the School-based Professional Support Section);

(3) injecting $800M and $300M in 2006 and 2010 respectively to the Language Fund to enable schools to implement the English Enhancement Scheme and the Refined English Enhancement Scheme so as to strengthen the English-rich environment in schools, empower English teachers professionally to teach better, as well as facilitate collaboration between English teachers and content subject teachers to promote the learning of English across the curriculum;

(4) expending over $500M annually for the provision of a native-speaking English teacher for all public sector primary and secondary schools operating six or more classes to enrich the English language environment in schools;

(5) sponsoring and conducting various large-scale activities through SCOLAR to create a conducive English language environment to raise students' interest in learning English outside the classroom;

(6) giving high priority to items relevant to the theme of "Effective Learning and Teaching of Languages" since 2009 to encourage schools to implement English enhancement plans, with so far 16 projects being financed by the Quality Education Fund; and

(7) providing additional teachers to schools in need, including schools with Band 3 or the weakest students at S1 to S3.

     We will further strengthen teacher development to improve teachers' English proficiency and their teaching skills. Since there is no evidence showing the number of teaching sessions per week and teaching effectiveness are necessarily related, we have no plans at the moment to impose a ceiling on the number of teaching sessions for secondary English teachers.

(c) Under Section 3(1) of the Official Languages Ordinance, Chinese and English are the official languages of Hong Kong for the purpose of communication between the Government and members of the public. As a general rule, therefore, Government documents meant for the public, including important documents such as Policy Addresses, Budget Speeches, Gazette notices, consultation papers and reports, as well as other written materials like Government webpages, notices and signs, and names of Government buildings, are in both Chinese and English. It is only in individual cases where there are strong operational or financial reasons that monolingual materials are issued. In such cases, the monolingual materials would generally include a bilingual caption, a summary in the other language, or a message in the other language directing readers who may understand only Chinese or English to another source where further information in the other language can be obtained.

     Though we have not conducted related surveys, we believe that the public expect written materials issued by the Government to be in both Chinese and English. Such expectation is in line with the Government's language policy, which attaches equal importance to the two official languages.

Ends/Wednesday, December 12, 2012
Issued at HKT 12:40


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