LCQ4: English proficiency of Hong Kong people

     Following is a question by the Hon Starry Lee and a reply by the Secretary for Education, Mr Eddie Ng Hak-kim, in the Legislative Council today (November 25):


     The study report published by the University of Hong Kong in August this year showed that among the members of the public aged 12 or above who responded to a survey, 62 per cent claimed that they could speak English. However, upon assessment by researchers, only about 27 per cent and 24 per cent of the respondents had actually attained a certain level of proficiency in oral English and written English respectively (i.e. their proficiency was assessed as "quite well, well or very well"), and only about 2 per cent and 5 per cent of respondents had been assessed as "very well" in proficiency of oral English and written English respectively. Moreover, according to a report released by an education organisation this month on English proficiency ranking of adults, Hong Kong ranked 33rd among 70 countries and territories and ninth in the Asian region (trailing behind Japan, Taiwan, South Korea and Vietnam), and its ranking is also lower than those of Shanghai and Beijing among Chinese cities. At the same time, the Examination Report and Question Papers for the Hong Kong Diploma of Secondary Education Examination published by the Hong Kong Examinations and Assessment Authority this month also pointed out that some candidates sitting the English Language examination had used "Chinglish" in their composition, while candidates sitting Paper 4 on speaking skills were found to have a limited vocabulary and could only use simple words repeatedly in conversation. Regarding the English proficiency of Hong Kong people, will the Government inform this Council:

(1) whether it has examined if the aforesaid reports have objectively reflected the English proficiency of Hong Kong people; of the authorities' scientific methods to assess the English proficiency of Hong Kong people;

(2) whether it knows the number of schools in Hong Kong currently using English as the medium of daily communication on campus; of the measures in place to encourage schools to foster a good English-learning environment, such as organising more activities like drama, recitation and singing to be conducted in English, so as to develop students' interest in learning English; and

(3) whether it has reviewed the effectiveness of the Native-speaking English Teacher (NET) Scheme which is currently implemented, including whether NETs only play a peripheral role to the English curriculums, and whether there are adequate opportunities for students to interact and exchange with NETs on campus; if it has reviewed, of the details; if not, the reasons for that?



     My reply to Hon Starry Lee's question is as follows:

(1) The first report mentioned by Hon Lee is the territory-wide sociolinguistic studies on the language use in Hong Kong conducted by the University of Hong Kong. Study results regarding language use in society were published in 1983, 1993, 2003 and 2015. The 2015 study was based on telephone interviews with 2 000 Hong Kong citizens and detailed analysis of the 2011 census data, together with expert assessment. The study results are, therefore, generally representative. According to the study report published in August this year, there was an increase in the number of interviewees who believed they speak English "well" or "very well", from 14 per cent in 2003 to 16.9 per cent in 2015.

     The second study mentioned by Hon Lee must be the Education First English Proficiency Index. The report should be interpreted with caution as the study is very commercially-oriented, with a vested interest. According to the information online, the test takers are self-selected and self-recommended and the results may not necessarily provide a true picture of the English standards of the countries or regions concerned. Further, since the tests are administered online, non-Internet users and those not using the Internet during the data collection period are excluded. All in all, we feel it is obviously neither objective nor representative.

     The third study mentioned by Hon Lee is the Subject Examination Report and Question Papers published by the Hong Kong Examinations and Assessment Authority (HKEAA) this month. The report points out some candidates' problems, such as "Chinglish" and "limited vocabulary". The report is about a very representative and objective assessment by the HKEAA on students' standards. The examples of individual students' problems listed in the report only serve as a reminder to candidates of what they should pay more attention to in their learning. Statistics from the Hong Kong Diploma of Secondary Education (HKDSE) Examinations have shown that the English standards of Hong Kong students are stable. Over the past four HKDSE Examinations (i.e. 2012 to 2015), secondary students' performance in the English Language subject was stable, with more than 77 per cent of them attaining Level 2 or above (i.e. the minimum requirements for the application of civil service posts and sub-degree programmes). The percentage of students attaining Level 3 or above (i.e. the minimum requirement for admission to local 4-year undergraduate university programmes) increased from 50.1 per cent in 2012 to 52.4 per cent in 2015.

     In addition, we would also consider the others like the Territory-wide System Assessment (TSA). TSA is conducted upon students' completion of Primary 3 (P.3), Primary 6 (P.6) and Secondary 3 (S.3) to provide objective, comprehensive and quality territory-wide data. Among the three subjects of Chinese Language, English Language and Mathematics, students' performance in the TSA for English Language has been steady in recent years. P.3 students' performance was improved from 75.9 per cent in 2004 to 80.3 per cent in 2014, whereas P.6 from 70.5 per cent in 2005 to 72.4 per cent in 2013 and S.3 from 68.6 per cent in 2006 to 69.3 per cent in 2014. We can see that development has been stable, although there is, of course, room for improvement.

(2) The Education Bureau (EDB) announced the fine-tuned medium of instruction arrangements for secondary schools, which has been implemented since the 2010/11 school year. There was no more bifurcation of schools into Chinese medium of instruction schools and English medium of instruction schools and schools can make flexible arrangements on the number of classes adopting English as the medium of instruction according to the abilities and needs of the students, which enables students to improve their English by enhancing their exposure to English and providing more opportunities for them to use English through non-language subjects and Extended Learning Activities.

     459 public-sector primary schools and 406 public-sector secondary schools have joined the Native-speaking English Teacher (NET) Scheme. All in all, the arrangements of different kinds of school activities such as English camp, English Day, English drama, Campus TV, overseas exchange programmes, "The English Alliance" and digital story-telling, debating and puppetry have enriched the language environment. Such arrangements are more comprehensive and more relevant to daily life.

(3) As regards the NET Scheme, we understand it is important. Since the implementation of the Scheme in 1998, we have conducted large-scale studies, and the overall arrangement has been found to be helpful to students learning English. The second large-scale evaluation was launched in the latter half of the 2014/15 school year. The preliminary data analysis for the evaluation report will be available by the end of the 2015/16 school year.

     The EDB is currently studying the possibility of providing an additional NET for public-sector primary schools with a greater number of classes and will review the pilot project based on the study findings.

Ends/Wednesday, November 25, 2015
Issued at HKT 17:21