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After the handover in 1997, the language policies of Hong Kong have often been criticized by the public. Parents, in particular, have voiced their concerns about the declining English standard of Hong Kong students. The media has also reported on the "worrying" trend on a regular basis, reminding Hong Kong people that English is still vital for career success (Mozur, 2008), and Hong Kong is gradually losing its English edge to the Mainland (Murphy, 2005). While it is arguable whether or not the English standard of Hong Kong is deteriorating, it appears that Hong Kong would have to improve and refine its English language policies in order to meet the needs of the ever-changing world and to stay competitive.
As a group of in-service teachers and postgraduate students interested in the language planning and policy in Hong Kong, we would like to examine the current English language policies, and seek for areas of improvement. We have also chosen to study the English policies in two neighbouring Southeast Asian countries - Singapore and Malaysia - in hopes of shedding some light on the possible shortcomings of the policies in Hong Kong.
In the last few decades, there is a significant and frequent change in the aims and objectives, contents, teaching strategies of primary and secondary education in Hong Kong. Some pivotal teaching reforms include the Target-Oriented Curriculum (1995), the Learning to Learn initiative (2001), and the New Senior Secondary Curriculum (NSSC, 2009); while the language policy reforms have appeared to promote mother-tongue instruction (1998) which was later replaced by the 'fine-tuning' medium of instruction (MOI) policy (2010) (Morris & Adamson, 2010). The reforms have been raising issues of globalization and the development of national identity, after the handover of Hong Kong to Chinese sovereignty in 1997 (Kennedy, 2005).
English Language Policies in Primary and Secondary Schools in Hong Kong
Policy for Primary Schools
Policy for Secondary Schools
Education Commission noted the 'very great burden' placed on pupils by English-medium instruction and called for an expansion of the Chinese-medium stream.
1960 - 1970
Grammar-translation method was replaced by the oral-structural activity approach.
The Green Paper on Junior Secondary Education mentioned that Chinese was the usual language of instruction in the lower forms while English was the second language.
The oral-structural activity approach was replaced by the notional-functional communicative Approach.
Education Commission's first report mentioned that some secondary schools should be encouraged to use Chinese as MOI.
Task-based learning was introduced through the Targets and Target Related Assessment (TTRA) scheme.
Education Commission's fourth report recommended that the policy in 1984 could not function well. Schools should consistently use either Chinese or English as the MOI.
Target Oriented Curriculum (TOC) was introduced.
The Education Department advised schools on the language proficiency of their Form 1 student intake so as to help those students in making choices of an appropriate MOI.
A clear-cut medium of instruction policy with a detailed implementation plan was put forward.
English Extensive Reading Schemes were extended gradually to cover Primary 1 to Secondary 5
Compulsory Chinese MOI policy replaced the policy in 1994. Allowance was given for some schools to be exempted from this policy.
1998 - 1999
Native English Teachers (NET) scheme was launched.
English Writing Packages were published and issued to schools.
The first live benchmark tests of Advisory Committee on Teacher Education and Qualifications (ACTEQ) took place.
"Learning to Learn - the way forward in curriculum" was launched.
2001 - 2002
Additional teaching posts were provided to all eligible aided primary ordinary schools to strengthen library services and to support the extension of English Extensive Reading Schemes.
2004 - 2005
Future English teachers would have to pass the benchmark test prior to joining the profession.
A Language Corner was set up in the Central Resources Centre to provide resources on the English Language Education Key Learning Area (KLA).
The New Senior Secondary (NSS) academic structure and curriculum were introduced.
2009 - 2010
Learning Circles were formed by English teachers practising small class teaching.
Fine-tuning the MOI was imposed.
Impact of the English language policies in Hong Kong before the handover
The Proficiency of English
Researchers carried out surveys at Hong Kong University in 1983 and 1993, and the results showed an obvious rise in the amount of people who claimed to be proficient in English and bilingual in English and Chinese. The number of Hong Kong Chinese reported to know English quite well has increased remarkably, while those who claimed that they did not know English at all have dropped from 33.1% to 17.4%. This reveals that Hong Kong has a significant shift towards bilingualism in the past fifteen years. Yet, at the same time, there have been enduring complaints from the academic and business communities that standards of English in Hong Kong have been declining. The reasons behind would appear to lie between the increasing demand of the society and the supply of people with the English Language proficiency to meet those needs. To understand more, there is a need to examine the changing role of English in Hong Kong society during the colonial period.
Cheung (1984) points out that English implied power more than a channel for communication in colonial Hong Kong. However, since the mid-1960s, English has changed from a purely colonial language which was restricted to a minority of Hong Kong Chinese, to an elementary medium of communication for a considerable number of Hong Kong people (Lord, 1987).
The 'cultural eunuch' syndrome
Mixed-mode instruction in English-medium schools created the commonest complaint about Anglo-Chinese schools in the past two decades, in which they produced students whose English proficiency fell both linguistically and culturally. The Education Commission (1995) mentions that some Chinese language education experts believe that the abilities of young people in reading and writing deteriorated in recent years, given that students encountered some understandably basic difficulties during the lessons of Modern Standard Chinese, in particular, the nature of the script and the lack of correspondence between spoken Cantonese and written Chinese.
Impact of the English language policies in Hong Kong after the handover
Impact on English language education
The biliterate trilingual policy and the compulsory Chinese MOI policy were introduced in 1997 and 1998 respectively. Under this policy, increased support has been provided to enhance the use of English, Cantonese and Mandarin both at school and outside school. In the process of English learning, measures have been provided to schools as follows: the Native English Teachers (NET) scheme, 'English in the air', extra resources given to Chinese-MOI schools to strengthen their English, and the cross-curricular teaching packages specially designed for Chinese-MOI schools to assist English learning when they switched the MOI in senior secondary education from English to Chinese, as well as to provide students with higher motivation in English learning.
Far from the expected, however, it turned out that the motivation of students to learn English remains at a low level as shown in the survey of SCOLAR (2003). Poon (1999, 2000) points out that the policy of Chinese MOI imposed an unfavourable effect on the learning of English language. She argues by referring to the experience of a secondary school principal whose school used English MOI before 1986 and shifted to Chinese MOI after that. This principal agrees that his students are now less motivated to learn English than before. The explanation is that English is now only a subject like History and Maths, and this is not enough to achieve enough competent levels of metalinguistic awareness (Beardsmore, 1998).
Under the fine-tuned MOI policy imposed in 2010, schools were allowed to make professional judgment on the most appropriate MOI arrangements for their students according to their own situation and the needs of students. Time is necessary to observe if this policy is successful in addressing the above-mentioned concerns or not.
Impact on language use in society
The policy of pushing most of the Anglo-Chinese secondary schools to switch from English to Chinese MOI has created a great controversy, especially among parents, who have expressed their anger towards the "high-handed, inconsistent and socially divisive" policy through letters, columns and radio phone-ins. On the one hand, debates have been focused on the actual fairness of the selection as the policy allows elite schools to retain their practice of using English as the MOI. On the other hand, there are strong conflicting opinions being expressed about the desirability and feasibility of using Chinese as MOI in a mass education system in Hong Kong - an international metropolis cum global financial centre which rivals New York, London and Tokyo in the 21st Century.
Key stakeholders' concerns
Hong Kong (SAR) Government. For improving the quality of English language education, a huge percentage of Hong Kong GDP is budgeted for education-related expenses every year, (Miller and Li, 2008). However, with the lack of a conducive English-using environment for teaching and learning, there are great obstacles to raising standards of English of Hong Kong students.
Employers. When reading the job advertisement pages of any local newspapers, in additional to Cantonese, one will identify that the general requirement for applicants - from managers to messengers - is to have at least some knowledge of English.
Parents. They have a noticeable preference for their children to learn through the medium of English (Li, 1999), with a type of passive, uncritical submission to the global hegemony of English (Phillipson, 1992), as placing their child to an English MOI school is an educationally sound decision in their eyes.
Educationalists. Sticking to English language, which is unfamiliar to some students, would mean to jeopardize the immediate and arguably higher-order objective of learning. The Government, therefore, has to have a more tolerant position towards the use of bilingual teaching strategies, i.e. 'code-mixing in those English MOI lessons'.
Singapore is a small but multicultural Southeast Asian country with scarce natural recourses. According to the 2000 Census of population, the island country has approximately 3.2 million people of heterogeneous ethnic groups. It includes 76.8% of Chinese, 13.9% of Malay, 7.9% of Indians and 1.4% of Eurasians, Europeans and other races (Rappa and Wee, 2006). Singapore gained its independence from Malaysia in 1965. Owing to its multicultural and multiracial characteristics, the Singapore government strategically adopted English, Chinese, Malay and Tamil as the four official languages in 1965 so as to fulfill its political, economical and social needs. Economically, English is the dominant language in commerce. Ethically, the majority group in Singapore is Chinese, so Mandarin is adopted. Politically, Malay has its historical influence on Singapore. The largest Indian group is Tamils, so Tamil is also chosen as one of the official languages. Thus, the language policies in Singapore are full of pragmatism.
English Language policies in primary and secondary schools in Singapore
Policy for Primary Schools
Policy for Secondary Schools
Divided into English-medium and vernacular (non-English-medium) schools with separate syllabuses.
Adopted English, Chinese, Malay and Tamil as the official languages.
Bilingualism: learning of Malay, with either English or Mandarin or Tamil depending on the student's language stream
The 1959 Syllabus emphasized grammar and literacy appreciation.
Issued the Syllabus for English in Primary English Schools.
Published the Syllabus for English in Secondary English Schools.
Bilingualism: studying English and a mother tongue (the symbolic language of one's paternal ancestry)
- Divided the Syllabus for English (Primary) into 2 documents for Lower and Upper Primary respectively.
- The 1971 Syllabus stressed oral language development and grammar; and it marked the indigenization of English language materials.
The Primary Pilot Project (PPP) produced 24 English Readers for Primary 1 and 2, worksheets, teaching charts and 30 units of English lessons.
Implemented Speak Mandarin Campaign to promote Mandarin instead of other Chinese dialects.
English was studied at a functional level.
The 1981 Syllabus emphasized grammatical correctness. Speech activities and literary enrichment were taken out.
Published the English Syllabus for the New Education System as a document.
The English Language Syllabus was published (Sec 1-4 Special/ Express course).
Implemented Reading and English Acquisition Programme (REAP) in the lower primary classrooms, and the Active Communicative Teaching (ACT) in the upper primary classrooms.
Implemented the Project to Assist Selected Schools in English Schools (PASSES) to raise English proficiency in several secondary schools with considerable success.
Implemented the single national stream under the New Education System (NES): all Singapore schools students learned English as the first language.
Offered English and Chinese as first languages in selected primary schools.
- Regarded English as a first language in the national school curriculum.
- Published the English Language Syllabus (Primary) and the English Language Syllabus (Secondary) into 2 separate documents.
- The 1991 Syllabus emphasized themes, linguistic and communicative competence.
Published the Primary English Thematic Series (PETS) for schools (textbooks in a thematic approach).
Developed the Course in Language and Using English (CLUE) for schools (textbooks in a thematic approach).
Ministry of Education (MOE) published 2 booklets on Teaching Grammar to show how to teach specific grammar items for primary and secondary levels.
Launched Speak Good English Movement (SGEM) to promote the use of Standard English and discourage the use of Singlish.
-The 2001 English Syllabus emphasized learning outcomes, language use, text types, explicit teaching of grammar, literacy learning and re-introduction of phonics.
- Implemented the English Language Syllabus 2001: Primary & Secondary in Primary 1, Primary 2 and Secondary 1; and the English Language Syllabus 2001(Primary & Secondary: EM3 & Normal Technical).
Analysis of the English language policies in Singapore
Bilingualism is the major language policy in Singapore. Tan (2007) believes that "bilingualism is a cornerstone of Singapore's language ideology and policy" (as cited in Lee and Suryadinata, 2007, p.78). From the past three decades, English and Chinese are the two main languages emphasized. In the 1950s to 1960s, English was emphasized in the English-medium schools as these English-medium schools had a separate English language syllabus from those in the vernacular (non-English-medium) schools. From 1966 onwards, studying English has been a must for all Singaporeans under the bilingualism while Mandarin has also been stressed by the Speak Mandarin Campaign in 1979 because of economic purposes. Later, in 1990, both English and Chinese were offered as first languages in selected primary schools. It shows how the Singapore government has put emphasis on English since the 1960s.
Also, Tan (2007) further explains that "Singapore's heavy reliance on trade and investment, [English] is the de facto international language for trade, science and politics. â€¦ On the other hand, with China becoming an increasingly important economic and political partner, the Chinese language has become more important" (as cited in Lee and Suryadinata, 2007, p.84 - 85). It illustrates why the Singapore government has chosen English and Chinese under the bilingual policy.
The success of language policies in Singapore
To a large extent, Singapore's bilingual policy is very successful. Referring to Tan (2007), "for almost forty years, success in Singapore's education system was predicated on academic ability and doing reasonably well in the languages" (as cited in Lee and Suryadinata, 2007, p.76). The data collected from the 2000 census also shows how well Singaporeans perform in the languages. According to Ho (2003), "the 2000 census records Singapore's bilingual population (i.e. those literate in two or more of the official languages) as having reached 56% in 2000, from 45.0% in 1990" (as cited in Ho and Wong, 2003, p.398). Over half of the total population in Singapore is bilingual.
Furthermore, the success of English language policies in Singapore is due to much emphasis on grammar accuracy and literacy learning in the English Syllabuses. For instance, grammar and literacy appreciation were emphasized in the 1959 Syllabus. The 1971 Syllabus and the 1981 Syllabus stressed grammar and grammatical correctness respectively. The 2001 English Syllabus also emphasized literacy learning and teaching grammar explicitly.
All the above syllabuses cover the teaching of grammar, which is an important element of the English language. Referring to Curriculum Planning & Development Division (2001), "the study of the grammar of English, its structures and language conventions, including spelling and punctuation is, therefore, an important aspect in the learning of English" (as cited in Ho and Wong, 2003, p.391). Having sufficient grammar knowledge helps students produce accurate and proficient English.
Including literacy learning in the 1959 and 2001 Syllabuses, the Ministry of Education (MOE) allows students to be exposed to different texts in order to let them acquire the target language spontaneously. Lim (2003) presents that "enjoyment of literature [gives] pupils the opportunity to read extended literary texts and absorb text-level grammar beyond the discrete sentence" (as cited in Ho and Wong, 2003, p.377). Apart from covering literacy learning in the English Syllabuses, Reading and English Acquisition Program (REAP) in the lower primary classrooms was implemented in 1984. According to Lim (2003), the REAP "was a tactic recognition by Singapore educationists that the reading of literature helps pupils to acquire a rich language input and learn extended language patterns" (as cited in Ho and Wong, 2003, p.383). The above shows how successful the bilingual policy is.
The status of English in Singapore
Most students possess two different types of Englishes, the Standard English and Singlish. All of them learn about the Standard English at school but they come across Singlish in their everyday life, especially from the media. For instance, some Singlish programmes (like the Phua Chu Kang) are very popular among teenagers.
Language experts believe that students' English status is fine because language experts allow a wider range of flexibility. They treat the spread of Singlish as a language variety. Even though students speak Singlish, which is different from the Standard English, it is acceptable because Singlish is shared among Singaporeans. Chew (2007) thinks that "destroying a language is in reality destroying a people and a culture" (as cited in Tsui and Tollefson, 2007, p.81). Singlish which represents their own culture and identity is an authentic language used by three million Singaporeans, so students can choose to use Singlish or not.
The local community thinks that the status of English among students is not high since students communicate in Singlish in their everyday life. From the local community's viewpoint, Singlish has a lower social value when comparing with the Standard English. Chew (2007) finds from a market research that "98% of the respondents rejected the notion of teaching Singlish in school, reflecting a rejection of low-value varieties, especially when it came to teaching it to the younger generation" (as cited in Tsui and Tollefson, 2007, p.86). They view students speaking Singlish as having poor English.
Government officials find that the status of English among students is not proficient enough as students use Singlish extensively. Tan (2007) finds that "the Government regards Singlish as pidgin English and is working concertedly towards eradicating it in order not to undermine Singapore's competitive strength" (as cited in Lee and Suryadinata, 2007, p.88). Thus, Speak Good English Movement (SGEM) was carried out in 2000. The government believes that students speaking Singlish are affecting the Standard English proficiency of Singaporeans in general, and they are affecting Singapore's competiveness in the global market. The above ideas are the different viewpoints of the status of English among students.
Malaysia is a multiethnic and multilingual country that consists of two regions: Peninsular Malaysia and Malaysian Borneo (also known as West and East Malaysia respectively). There are three ethnic groups in Malaysia: Malays and other Bumiputras, Chinese and Indians. Since the 1800s, the English language has had pervasive influence in various spheres of Malaysian life under intense British colonization. On 31 August 1957, Malaysia got its independence from the United Kingdom; the Malay language (Bahasa Malaysia) was then accepted as the national language.
English Language Policies Primary and Secondary Schools in Malaysia
Policy for Primary Schools
Policy for Secondary Schools
The Razak Report introduced Bahasa Malaysia and the English language as school subjects in both primary and secondary schools.
The implementation of the National Education Policy unified the national schools, using Bahasa Malaysia as the medium of instruction (MOI), and the national type English schools, using English as the MOI, into one. While Bahasa Malaysia was chosen as the MOI, English was formally given the status of a second language.
The post-1970 Primary English Syllabus (which was a full-fledged structural-situational syllabus) was implemented in all national primary schools.
The English Syllabus for Form One - Three (which was an extension of the primary school syllabus) was implemented in the lower forms.
The Cabinet Committee Report recommended the focus of the New Primary Schools Curriculum or Kurikulum Baru Sekolah Rendah (KBSR) English language teaching syllabus should be on the three R's - reading, writing and arithmetic.
The English Language Syllabus in Malaysian Schools Form Four - Form Five (with a task - oriented situational approach, also known as the Malaysian Communicative Syllabus) was implemented in the upper forms.
The English Language Reader Programme (ELRP) was implemented under the initiative of the Schools Division of the Ministry of Education.
The Cabinet Committee Report highlighted the importance of English as the language of science and technology and its relevance to Malaysia.
The KBSR was implemented.
The Integrated Secondary Schools Curriculum or Kurikulum Bersepadu Sekolah Menengah (KBSM) was implemented.
Moral and spiritual values were infused into English language classes.
A revamped curriculum known as the Integrated Primary Schools Curriculum or Kurikulum Bersepadu Sekolah Rendah (KBSR) was implemented in all primary schools.
The Class Reader Programme (CRP) was started at the Form One level.
Self-Access Learning (SAL) was introduced.
The Integrated Primary School Curriculum was revised.
Critical and creative thinking skills were implemented aggressively as part of the wider KBSM ELT syllabus.
Smart School Project was implemented.
The literature programme in the English language curriculum was implemented.
The government decided to endorse the teaching of Science and Mathematics in English with Primary 1, Form 1 and Form 4 classes.
During the interim period, public examinations of the two subjects were conducted in both English and Bahasa Malaysia.
The Success of English Language Policies in Malaysia
Realizing the importance of English, the Education Ministry has embarked on efforts to increase students' English proficiency by addressing the deficiencies within the aspects of teaching and learning English.
During the British era, English was taught only at the English medium schools and such policy was to educate the Malays to become better farmers, fishermen, gardeners and craftsmen (Pandian, 2001). Thus, a large section of the community could not go to these schools because of financial and transportation problems. With the adoption of English as a school subject, more people can reach the language and hence, help establish them in a better socio-economic position.
From the early structural-situational approach to the communicative approach, the English language policies were amended to meet the immediate and projected manpower needs of the nation, as well as to enhance students' language learning. Until 1983, the primary school syllabus was based on a structural approach which focused on discrete learning of grammar. According to Abraham (1987), such approach led to a very restrictive teacher-centered approach that teachers concentrated on teaching grammar while neglecting communicative aspects. As a result, students who could pass examinations and continue to the tertiary level failed to use the English language productively in a communicative event. To improve the syllabus, the task-oriented situational syllabus was adopted in secondary schools. The communicative approach of the KBSM syllabus provided many opportunities for discussions and activities simulating real-life contexts. Apart from catering for efficient language learning, it also promoted students' intellectual development. The integration of moral values, knowledge from other subjects and language content and skills made language learning 'more realistic and authentic' (Kementerian Pendidikan Malaysia, 1989). Other ELT programmes like Smart School Project equip students of the new millennium with the necessary communicative and multi-literacy skills.
The Demerits of English Language Policies in Malaysia
Since the implementation of the Malay medium instruction, many teachers, scholars and the general public believe that students' English proficiency has declined (Pandian, 2001). According to Govindasamy (2001), many undergraduates have to memorize words from their textbooks for the reason that they have limited proficiency in English to express their ideas in their own words. In other words, the proficiency attained at the school level is not sufficient enough to help university students become effective readers.
The Status of English in Malaysia
While ethnic minority groups have been shifting towards the use of English, about 60% to 70% of the school-going population, mainly those living in rural areas in Malaysia, English is a foreign language to them (David & Govindasamy, 2003).
Language experts worry that maintaining English as the means of communication will become difficult because of the decreasing number of people who are able to use it. Yet, some intellectuals are rather cautious in supporting using English as the MOI due to the fear of a decline in the future status of Malay, as well as the ability of teachers and students to handle the pressure of teaching and learning in a foreign language (David & Govindasamy, 2003).
The business / local community consider employees' skills in written and spoken English as one of the major criteria during recruitment. Employers are reluctant to hire local graduates who are not able to communicate well in English. According to Rappa & Wee (2006), one with higher competence in the language has a higher chance of enjoying greater occupational mobility and social mobility.
Government officials are concerned about the declining standards of English, which could hinder Malaysia's progress towards achieving developed nation status. Yet, they think Malaysians should be proud that Bahasa Malaysia is the national language and English should not exceed Bahasa Malaysia in status and value as the medium of language in administration and education (Rappa & Wee, 2006).
What Hong Kong can learn from Singapore and Malaysia
Since the handover, the government still claims that Hong Kong education is aiming at enhancing the trilingual and biliterate abilities of local students, and this is achieved by allocating resources to extending existing reading schemes and publishing writing packages (Education Bureau, 2010). However, local scholars are criticizing the government for explicitly shifting towards Cantonese, especially within the Legislative Council (Bolton, 2002a). This is also true for government officials and departments making press releases. The marked shift is revealing to the public that the government now prefers Chinese to English. The stance of the government could be discouraging Hong Kong students to improve their English. They may not see an urgent need to polish their English skills, and may question the benefits of learning English. Given the rise of Mainland China, it is understandable that some Hong Kong students now perceive that learning Chinese and speaking good Mandarin are more preferable.
If Hong Kong indeed wishes to pursue a 'trilingual, biliterate' language policy, Hong Kong should learn from Singapore, as the city-state has set a good example of a bilingual international city for Hong Kong. Singapore has put much emphasis on the use of English, and this can be noticed in their English language policies. For example, Singapore has developed policies which repeatedly emphasize the teaching of grammar and literacy learning throughout the past 40 years, as seen in the table in our Singapore section. Given that we, local English teachers, can observe that Hong Kong students are not only struggling with grammar, but also finding literature a scary thought, the introduction and emphasis of similar policies in Hong Kong would be a most welcoming sight.
Hong Kong can also consider launching a similar campaign to Singapore's "Speak Good English Movement" (SGEM). While the movement has received mixed responses in Singapore, as Singaporeans cherish Singlish and have shown strong attachments to the local variety of English, the government has denied that the movement is to eliminate Singlish entirely from the state. In fact, the government has informed the public that the movement is "targeted at Singaporeans who have very limited competence, whose repertoire is restricted to Singlish, and who, unlike their better educated counterparts, are unable to code-switch between Singlish and a more standard variety" (Rappa and Wee, 2006, p. 95). This shows that the government is not forcing educated Singaporeans to give up their Singlish variety, and yet, it is encouraging the less educated public to acquire a more standard variety, as it opens up the doors of opportunity for them, and allows them to climb up the socio-economic ladder.
Hong Kong English, similar to Singaporean English, is an established and recognized variety of Asian English, as evidenced by the works published by scholars (see, for example, Bolton, 2002b). Therefore, if the government is to organize an English-promotion campaign similar to Singapore's, Hong Kong has to give recognition to the local variety, and, at the same time, emphasize the importance of speaking a standard variety of English that can allow Hong Kong people to communicate with their western counterparts. Although Hong Kong has launched the "Workplace English Campaign" in 2000 (SCOLAR, 2005), it is not sufficient for the government to only emphasize the need for learning workplace English. Government officials should take the lead to speak English in public, as demonstrated by the first two prime ministers of Singapore, Lee Kuan Yew and Goh Chok Tong (see Rappa and Wee, 2006, pp. 94 - 95), since this can motivate Hong Kong students to learn the international language.
In addition, Hong Kong can also learn from how Malaysia handles the implementation of language policies. To cite an example, in 2002, the Malaysian government has decided to opt for English as the medium of instruction for the teaching of science and mathematics in primary and secondary schools. The policy has received plenty of opposition from Chinese and Tamil communities, as it would threaten the ethnic identities of these schools. The policy has since been modified to suit the needs of schools of different ethnic backgrounds (Hashim, 2003). This incident has shown that the Malaysian government would allow for compromise in the implementation of language policies. Such flexibility can hardly be seen in how Hong Kong handles the implementation of mother tongue education in 1998.
Conclusion: Recommendations to the Hong Kong EDB
The post-1997 government has been criticized for implementing policies that are "framed in largely symbolic terms" (Morris & Scott, 2005, p.97) and often "remained at the level of rhetoric" (Morris & Scott, 2005, p.83), owing to the constraints of Hong Kong's "disarticulated political system and the destructive political culture" (Morris & Scott, 2005, p.97). Hence, the language policies implemented since the handover cannot be seen as very successful, at least in the eyes of the general public. This has caused the public to lose confidence in the language policies proposed the government. In addition to implementing policies, the EDB should explain the policies and the reasons for implementing them, as this can allow the public to better understand the policies.
In order to make the education reform less elusive, the EDB should also plan the policies carefully and think about the possible consequences before implementing them. The 1998 mother tongue policy serves as a costly lesson - some would attribute the possible decline of English standard of Hong Kong students to this ineffective language policy. Despite the protest of public and educators, it is only after 12 years that the EDB has finally decided to introduce the fine-tuning MOI policy, allowing schools to choose their MOI where they see fit. Through promotion, careful planning and implementing, the policies proposed by the EDB would receive more support and less opposition.
Another recommendation is that EDB should listen to front-line educators, namely teachers. Education reform in Hong Kong often comes "from
the top and from government bureaucrats" (Ho, 2005, p.218), and this causes the education system to show disrespect for teachers' autonomy and keeps them from expressing their thoughts freely (Ho, 2005). If the EDB is willing to pay more attention to the voice of local teachers, it would definitely receive a lot of valuable and genuine suggestions from the group that may actually understand the needs of Hong Kong students. Not only would this keep teachers from being marginalized, but this would also allow the government to implement policies which can meet the needs of students and the society.
One final concern is that Hong Kong lacks a conducive English language learning environment, which causes English in Hong Kong become a foreign rather than a second language (Li, 2009, p.72). Given that the majority of the local population are Cantonese-speaking Chinese, it appears that they would seldom, if not never, engage in intra-ethnic conversations in English. It would be very challenging for Hong Kong students to find ways to practise speaking English. Hence, in order to promote English learning, it is vital for the EDB to create a more favourable English learning environment. In addition to allocating more resources to the English departments of Hong Kong schools, the key to success lies in organizing more English activities for Hong Kong students outside the classroom.