Date
21 July 2017
The government's 'long-term goal' for use of Putonghua for Chinese language classes in schools has sparked an intense debate in Hong Kong. Photo: hklangstudies/Facebook
The government's 'long-term goal' for use of Putonghua for Chinese language classes in schools has sparked an intense debate in Hong Kong. Photo: hklangstudies/Facebook

Groups protest against Putonghua plan for Chinese classes

Seven organizations staged a protest outside the Legislative Council building on Monday to express their opposition to any plan for use of Putonghua as the medium of instruction to teach the Chinese language in schools.

Representatives from Progressive Teachers’ Alliance (PTA) and PMI Students Concern Group were among the groups that participated in the protest, which took place while lawmakers were discussing the subject inside the Legco, Ming Pao Daily News reported.

The protests came after the Education Bureau (ED) reiterated that use of Putonghua in teaching Chinese is a long-term goal.

Tang Shing-fung, assistant professor at the Hong Kong Institute of Education’s Literature and Cultural Studies department, argued that there is no evidence to suggest that the use of Putonghua would lift students’ ability in the Chinese course.

It would require one or two generations of people actually growing up in a Putonghua-speaking environment to fully reap the benefits of teaching using the language, he said. Using Putonghua in predominantly Cantonese-speaking classrooms now could even hamper teaching progress, he warned.

Meanwhile, some lawmakers have questioned the ED for outlining the use of Putonghua to teach Chinese as a long-term goal without thorough consultation. ED chief Eddie Ng said the proposal was put forward by the Standing Committee on Language Education and Research (SCOLEAR) in a report back in 2003, and that the ED does not have a timeline for implementation.

Tang is a member of a team of university professors commissioned by the government to assess the benefits of using Putonghua in teaching Chinese. While results of the research project cannot be disclosed now, Tang said there is little evidence to suggest that the method would be beneficial.

PTA convenor Sy On-na disagreed with the notion that spoken Putonghua equals written Chinese. 

Training in verbal Putonghua would not directly help with writing skills in Chinese, Sy said. When students have to take time to understand what is being said in Putonghua, it could in turn affect the use of the language. The case is similar as to using English in teaching other subjects, Sy argued.

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