Strong hints are being floated that the Mother Tongue Policy will be relaxed. For the past 10 years, Only slightly more than 100 secondary schools (114 to be exact) have been allowed to teach in English, while the rest (300+) must teach in Chinese. It is now said that more flexibility will be allowed, such as a school teaching some subjects in English and other subjects in Chinese, blurring the line between English medium and Chinese medium schools. If so, it should be a welcome change.
But any changes in education policy in Hong Kong is never as simple as it appears. Teaching in a child’s mother tongue is good in principle. But there are other consideration such as the desire and the need to learn a second language, providing equal access to quality education, having sufficient qualified teachers, the students’ ability to learn in a second language, etc.
Many have considered the past 10 years of mother tongue education a disaster, with the students affected a lost generation. It is generally agreed that the English language proficiency overall (particularly in Chinese medium schools, the majority) has declined, the Chinese language proficiency has not gotten any better, and the gains in other subjects minimal, if any.
Such a report card on mother tongue education is bad enough by themselves. But considering also the resentment generated among the schools, the students and the parents, the lost in productivity in schools forced to switch back and forth, plus the negative impact on university learning and the community as a whole, it is no wonder many people consider it a disaster.
Many have pointed to a simple fact: if the policies and the schools are so good, why don’t the government officials, particularly those in charge of education policy, send their children to local schools? Why are all their children in international schools or even overseas on government funding?