Monday, 15 December 2008

Build a strong foundation AND build on that strong foundation - English language education

Another key to the success of the Finnish system is its primary education I think. The primary system there focuses on inspiring students to develop curiosity and interest in learning different subjects and getting everyone up to speed. With an inquiring mind, students are likely to go further into their interested areas and welcome more inspiration. Otherwise weaker students can easily get frustrated because they go through a poor primary education and start secondary school realising how little they know.

From my personal experience, that marks the key turning point for many students' academic paths. Some people used to tone it down by saying that would be one other transition - for those people who don't make it, they just start to fall behind, further and further.

In Hong Kong, one crucial determinant is English ability, for the EMI schools (which use English as the medium of instruction). Students who have a weak foundation in English usually struggle to catch up, and ultimately give up because all efforts prove futile and they cannot see any light at the end of the tunnel. It is a massive barrier to learning when students are stuck in a world with a mysterious code that they can't decipher.

And many schools simply fail to acknowledge or take enough action to rectify this very simple but far-reaching truth. If the primary education and lower secondary education do not change with a view to helping students bridge the gap, they will continue to lose a whole bunch of students. I remembered feeling very lucky when I was in S1 because my English foundation was relatively better compared to my peers, and that was such a huge advantage. There were things I didn't understand then, but now when i come to think of it, so many students get let down SIMPLY because of this poorly coordinated language policy.

Yes - i blame it on the poor coordination of the language policy, not the language policy itself. I dont see anything inherently wrong about EMI education if it's well implemented. But if it is implemented in such a way that is detached from the reality - in the absence of an English environment and additional support for students, it is a tall order to expect all students to adapt effectively.

As the saying goes, well begun is half done. But poorly begun means the game is half lost. We're losing many students totally because they don't manage to improve their English in time.

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