Sunday, 16 March 2008

Shifting and Swinging Medium of Instruction

Seeing the education bureau's proposal of a massive shift in the policy on medium of instruction, i just feel really annoyed and disappointed - what now with this bunch of idiots again...

Firstly i'm declaring my biassed view because of my personal grudge (because my year was the first year to 'receive' this kind of two-tier allocation system when it was introduced in 1998 in magnificent propaganda) - and also how i have witnessed how this divide has failed so many students in hong kong. ARGH

Going back to the subject matter of the language policy - Chinese or English or EITHER?

I can see there are many reasons why this massive shift again 10 years on.

1. Allowing more schools to turn to EMI on certain criteria will generally raise English standards.

2. This gives schools more discretion to do what's best for their own students in their view (ideally if that's the school's primary concern).

But I feel very disappointed about this model. I'm in favour of reform - but not reform in this manner.

1. English standards will not simply be raised just because schools use English as the medium of instruction 'in theory'.

This is blatant self-contradiction for the education bureau - ten years ago they said students can still learn great English in CMI schools, now they seem to have come to admit defeat and that they messed up 10 years of students' English for a mistaken point of view.

I'm saying EMI in theory because most EMI schools - i'm speaking of the best ones now - they can't actually use English as the medium of instruction, although they claim to. Teachers teach in Cantonese and use English textbooks. This actually doesn't help a student to use English.

Okay, why is EMI not enough?

A. The effectiveness of a system depends on the way it is put into practice. There are not the resources to support such a language policy. The English standards of teachers in general (even English teachers) are falling, and I personally have had half of my teachers who just don't speak English. (no offence, but just as a matter of fact). When you demand from someone what is impossible, this is what I call unrealistic. Those teachers who cannot speak English but nonetheless try to play along with the system, they have my full admiration, but their poor English actually doesn't help students to learn English properly.

B. I'm not personally against an EMI system - but I think it can only be successful on a very essential condition: the students and teachers are given the HELP to acquire a sufficient level of English proficiency to be able to use English on that high level to learn in English, think in English, chat in English.

For me, it is all about creating an English environment in school that promotes its use in school as well as helps students with special English needs. Especially the first year secondary school students should get A LOT OF additional help with learning in English in order to make the transition - that is the very premise of the success of this system. I can't see that happening now, and thats why many students from EMI schools can't even speak English after having gone through these five years of education in English, in theory.

So I think the key part to the reform is not about whether every subject should be taught in English, but how English itself is taught in school. It is that which will make the difference to students' English standards.

I'm glad the authorities say they will look at Finland and Netherlands' examples for comparison - i hope they won't again fail the students of Hong Kong and impose their myopic views upon the next generation.

As regards the discretion of school argument, I'm not convinced that will help because most schools are more concerned about their own reputation and 'status' - EMI schools generally attract more students, and will help their schools to do better. They won't be as concerned about whether their students can catch up, and learn effectively in English.

This language policy is annoying me quite a bit, I'm afraid. I'll probably rant more later.

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