Traditional Chinese Simplified Chinese Email this article
LCQ22: Hong Kong people's English standard

     Following is a question by the Hon Paul Tse and a written reply by the Secretary for Education, Mr Eddie Ng Hak-kim, in the Legislative Council today (December 3):


     It has been reported that the results of a test on English proficiency conducted online earlier have shown that the English proficiency of Hong Kong people has declined continuously in recent years, which is even lower than that of the people of Taiwan, Japan and Korea.  It has also been reported that there is also a trend of decline in the English proficiency among legal practitioners, who are required to use English concisely and precisely.  For example, a barrister was criticized by a judge in court for inaccurate use of words. In this connection, will the Government inform this Council:

(1) whether it has assessed the reasons contributing to the continuous decline in the English proficiency of Hong Kong people who have taken the English lessons under the current education system;

(2) whether it has studied how the fact that the English proficiency of Hong Kong people has declined continuously, which is even lower than that of the people of Shanghai, Beijing and Tianjin, affects Hong Kong's competitiveness, its future development and its status as an international metropolis; what measures it has in place to improve this situation; and

(3) of the policies to increase the importance attached to English by members of the public and encourage people who use mobile phones frequently to spare some of their time to listen to or watch English media programmes in place of using mobile phones, so as to increase their exposure to English?



     The test mentioned by Hon Tse must be the English First English Proficiency Index (EF EPI), which we believe may not reliably reflect the English standards of the participating countries or regions. According to the information published by EF online, the test-takers of EF EPI are self-selected and self-recommended and therefore cannot represent the typical English standards of their respective countries or regions. Further, since the tests are administered online and non-Internet users are inevitably excluded, the test results are not necessarily reflecting the English proficiency of the actual population (including students), and thus are not representative.

     Our reply to the three questions raised by Hon Tse is as follows:

(1) There are no reliable and generally recognised assessments or tests showing that Hong Kong people's English standards are declining. On the contrary, Hong Kong students' results in public examinations and international English assessments at different key stages of learning have all shown that their English standards are not falling:

* According to the results of the Territory-wide System Assessment (TSA), students' performance in English Language has been steady in recent years. From 2006 to 2013, P3, P6 and S3 students' TSA results were improved by 1%, 1.1% and 0.9% respectively. (P3: from 79.4% in 2006 to 80.4% in 2013; P6: from 71.3% in 2006 to 72.4% in 2013; S3: from 68.6% in 2006 to 69.5% in 2013).

* Students' performance in the Hong Kong Diploma of Secondary Education (HKDSE) English Language Examination has been satisfactory over the past three years (from 2012-2014), with more than 77% of students attaining Level 2 or above (i.e. the basic requirement for admission to sub-degree programmes and relevant civil service posts) (2012: 79.2%, 2013: 77.8%, 2014: 77.9%). Compared with the results in 2013, the percentage of students attaining Level 3 or above (i.e. the minimum requirement for admission to local 4-year undergraduate university programmes) increased by 4% (2013: 48.8%, 2014: 52.8%); while the percentage of students attaining Level 5 or above also increased by 0.3% (2013: 9.6%, 2014: 9.9%).

* The results of the final year students of local universities who participated in the International English Language Testing System (IELTS) in the 2013/14 school year also showed a slight improvement. There was a rise in the average score to 6.76, as compared with 6.70 in the 2012/13 school year (the highest score in IELTS is 9 while those awarded 6 are considered competent users). In 2013, the people of Hong Kong as a whole performed well in IELTS with an average score of 6.4, which was higher than the average scores of the Mainland and neighbouring countries or regions such as Japan, South Korea and Taiwan.

*As for employees' English standards, findings from the Business Prospects Survey released by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce in 2009 showed that 75% of the chamber members found the English proficiency of Hong Kong employees satisfactory, which was significantly higher compared to the 67% in 2004 and the 47% in 2002.

(2) Academics conducted some territory wide sociolinguistic studies in Hong Kong and collected data in 1983, 1993 and 2003 regarding the use of language in Hong Kong society. According to the findings in 2003, nearly 70% of the respondents expressed that they knew English and could speak fluent English.  Further, the percentage of respondents who considered their English speaking skills good rose significantly from 5% in 1983 to 32% in 2003, whereas the percentage of respondents who considered their English speaking skills excellent rose from 1% in 1983 to 10% in 2003.

     The Standing Committee on Language Education and Research (SCOLAR) commissioned the Census and Statistics Department to conduct a thematic household survey in 2012 to study Hong Kong citizens' use of language in different contexts, particularly household, workplace and daily media exposure. The survey results indicated that about 60% of the respondents perceived their English speaking skills as average to excellent, whereas 62% perceived their English writing skills as average to excellent.

     Considering Hong Kong's status as an Asian world city and the competition from neighbouring countries/regions, we are committed to raising Hong Kong people's English standards, in order to sustain the competitive edge in English Hong Kong has always possessed.

* At the school level, we provide a flexible and open curriculum framework for English Language to allow schools to stimulate students' learning motivation and develop their ability for the integrative use of listening, speaking, reading and writing skills through diversified activities. A stringent mechanism is also in place in the Education Bureau (EDB) to ensure the quality of learning and teaching in schools. This includes requiring all newly-recruited teachers to meet the Language Proficiency Requirement, using system assessment to understand the standards of Hong Kong students, requiring schools to conduct self-evaluation, conducting regular inspections by EDB officers, and using TSA school reports to promote learning. Further, the EDB also provides various support measures and resources to enhance serving teachers' professionalism and teaching effectiveness. Such measures include the provision of professional development programmes, school-based support services, learning and teaching resources, and the Native-speaking English Teacher (NET) Scheme. The NET Scheme allows schools to create a language-rich environment and enhance the learning and teaching effectiveness through the collaboration between the local English teachers and the NETs. The EDB is also working in collaboration with different professional bodies to organise English debates, drama, puppet shows, writing and short clip production competitions, so as to provide diversified English activities and related language training for primary and secondary students, thereby maximising their language exposure and opportunities for learning English.

* SCOLAR proposed in the Final Report of Language Education Review published in June 2003 that language teachers should possess a good command of the language and thorough understanding of the subject knowledge, as well as master the effective pedagogy. SCOLAR launched the Professional Development Incentive Grant Scheme for Language Teachers in April 2004 to encourage serving teachers of the Chinese and English Language subjects (i.e. those who joined the teaching profession before the 2004/05 school year) to take relevant programmes of study to enhance their subject knowledge and pedagogy in the language they teach.  Each eligible applicant may receive 50% of the tuition fee of the approved programme of study, subject to a maximum of HK$30,000, upon successful completion of the approved relevant programme of study. (The maximum subsidy level has been adjusted upwards to HK$50,000 starting from September 1, 2014.)  

* In 2003/04, the Language Fund allocated $277.9 million to set up a Task Force of teaching consultants. The Task Force builds a professional language teaching team in the field to promote the curriculum reform. The Task Force's duties include supporting panel chairpersons and curriculum leaders to implement the curriculum reform, assisting teachers to master the new pedagogical approaches relevant to the curriculum reform, setting up regional supporting networks and promoting the continuous professional development of language teachers. The above support is expected to make contributions to school-based curriculum development, teacher and school development, and most importantly to improve students' language learning.

* In support of the fine-tuned medium of instruction arrangements for secondary schools publicised in June 2009, the EDB announced the launch of a series of support measures in primary schools, one of which being the English Enhancement Grant Scheme for Primary Schools. With the funding from the Language Fund, the EDB provided a time-limited grant for primary schools to formulate school-based English enhancement measures, thereby strengthening English learning and teaching and sustaining the effectiveness upon the completion of the scheme.

* Since the launch of the curriculum reform in 2001, schools have been steadily developing the school-based curriculum to promote students' learning-to-learn capabilities while gathering professional strengths and using resources effectively to enhance the overall curriculum through "Reading to Learn". Such achievements deserve recognition. The EDB formulates "Learning to Learn 2.0" in 2014 to enhance the effectiveness of the curriculum reform.  One of the key emphases in curriculum planning is placed on the promotion of reading across the curriculum, which aims to enrich students' reading experiences through different Key Learning Areas and subjects, thereby also enhancing their language proficiency.

(3) The EDB has launched three Information Technology in Education Strategies since the 1998/99 school year and released the Consultation Document on the "Fourth Strategy on Information Technology in Education", which focuses on student learning, in 2014. All these initiatives are in line with our education reform that aims at promoting life-long learning and whole-person development of students through realising the potential of information technology. The EDB encourages schools to make good use of mobile technologies and the online learning resources to enhance the learning and teaching of English, while helping students to develop life-long learning capabilities, including language skills, with the use of information technology.

     A wide variety of e-learning resources aiming to support students in learning English outside class time can be retrieved from the EDB website. They include media programmes, e.g. the English radio programmes "Teen Time" and "The Sunday Smile", which are joint ventures between the EDB and RTHK. The mobile version of these programmes is also made available so that students can access the programmes by listening to the live broadcast or by downloading them to their mobile devices from the Archive or Podcast. At the same time, "TVNews", an interactive e-learning platform, is also launched on Hong Kong Education City's website to feature selected English news clips every week to increase students' awareness of social issues as well as to enhance their listening and reading skills through enriching their English vocabulary and providing them with examples on how English is used in authentic situations. The table below shows the number of schools with students using the e-learning platform in the last few years:

School year          Number of schools
-----------          ------------------
2009/10                    149
2010/11                    140
2011/12                    429
2012/13                    646

     Apart from encouraging students to make use of information technology to maximise opportunities for English exposure, SCOLAR has also implemented the English Alliance since the 2008/09 school year, with the aim to arouse students' interest in learning English, enhancing their English skills and providing opportunities for English exposure. The English Alliance is targeted at primary and secondary students and teachers in Hong Kong. To sustain the appeal to students, different activities are organised every year in the English Alliance, including drama workshops, English storytelling workshops, story writing competitions for junior secondary students, the two-day "English is Everywhere" Fun Day, and the programme "Creating Our Own Reading Records" held on the World Book Day on April 23, 2013.  SCOLAR also collaborates with different bodies in the community to provide a language-rich environment and English activities.  The English Alliance has attracted schools from different districts to participate since its launch. The table below shows the number of beneficiaries (including teachers and students) in the last few years:

School year     Number of beneficiaries
-----------     -----------------------
2008/09                   360
2009/10                   430
2010/11                   926
2011/12                14,156
2012/13                24,492

Ends/Wednesday, December 3, 2014
Issued at HKT 16:43


Print this page