16 February 2019
Anthony Leung (inset) wants Cantonese to be replaced by Putonghua as the Chinese language subject in schools. Photo: HKEJ
Anthony Leung (inset) wants Cantonese to be replaced by Putonghua as the Chinese language subject in schools. Photo: HKEJ

Antony Leung proposal on teaching Putonghua in schools attacked

Former financial secretary Antony Leung Kam-chung has stirred up a controversy after suggesting that students in Hong Kong schools should be taught Putonghua for the Chinese language subject.

Leung told an education conference Saturday that Cantonese is not everyone’s mother tongue.

He said he believed that using Putonghua as the language in which Chinese is taught could help improve the Chinese writing skills of students, Ming Pao Daily reported Monday.

Former secretary for the civil service Joseph Wong Wing-ping said Leung’s argument was based on “dangerous logic”.

Wu Yin-ching (胡燕青), a writer and former associate professor at Hong Kong Baptist University’s language center, said on her Facebook page that Cantonese is a national treasure.

Leung was either speaking too casually or simply ignorant to suggest removing Cantonese from the curriculum, Wu said.

She said she has observed that those who have the best writing skills among her students are not Putonghua-speaking.

Wu also said many friends of hers who write well are from Cantonese-speaking Guangdong.

She said winners of Chinese literature awards in Hong Kong are mostly Cantonese-speaking locals even though there are more and more Putonghua-speaking students coming from the mainland to study in the city.

Leung, who was chairman of the government’s Education Commission from 1997 to 2001 when the government rolled out in 1998 the policy of teaching in the mother tongue in schools, tried to distance himself from that controversial policy during Saturday’s conference. 

He said the idea of teaching in the mother tongue did not come from him.

Leung said he had disagreed with the then director of education, Helen Yu Lai Ching-ping, about rolling out the policy to all schools. He said he suggested at that time leaving the decision to the schools.

Yu responded to Ming Pao, saying the policy should be seen as one that decides the teaching language for schools, rather than teaching using the mother tongue.

She said she only had one discussion with Leung and that she made it clear to him that suggestions from within the government to roll out teaching in the mother tongue in all junior secondary schools would go against the government’s policy of “biliteracy and trilingualism”, the right of parents to choose the teaching language and Hong Kong being a multilingual hub.

Yu said Leung agreed with her and said English is valued by the commercial sector, but he never opposed teaching using the mother tongue.

Ma Ka-fai, a newspaper columnist and assistant professor in the department of chinese and history at City University of Hong Kong, said he was among several writers who were invited to a dinner hosted by Leung years ago.

At that time, Ma said, Leung advocated the use of the mother tongue as the teaching language in schools.

Leung said “Hong Kong would drown if it did not implement the policy”, Ma recalled, but he said Leung is now backing away from being referred to as the originator of the policy.

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