Study finds poor Chinese language skills among NCS students

August 22, 2019 19:24
Researchers and a non-Chinese speaking student representative discuss the findings of a study on Chinese language proficiency among non-Chinese school students at a news conference on Wednesday. Photo: HKEJ

Hong Kong authorities have been striving to enhance Chinese language proficiency among ethnic minority students in the city, but a study suggests that the efforts still have a long way to go in terms of achieving the desired objective.

Tests conducted to assess the Chinese listening, reading and writing proficiency among ethnic minority students enrolled in local schools have yielded disappointed results, a private survey showed, pointing to the need for more measures to help the pupils boost their local language skills, which can make it easier for them to integrate into Hong Kong society.

The Caritas Community Centre – Kowloon had earlier this year commissioned the Hong Kong Baptist University to find out what the average Chinese literacy rate is among non-Chinese speaking (NCS) students at high schools.

To conduct the study, researchers invited 411 Secondary Five and Six NCS students in the New Senior Secondary curriculum to take two exams. One test, the fifth edition of the "Primary 1 Subject Test (Chinese Section)" of the Education Bureau, aimed at testing the pupils' listening, reading and writing proficiency of Chinese.

The second one, from the research team itself, was devised to assess how well the students can perform in Chinese reading at Primary One level.

According to the results unveiled on Wednesday, the examinees’ average score in the writing category of the first exam was only 29.1 marks, lower than what 76.4 percent of local Primary One students who had taken the same test had scored.

Their average scores in reading and listening were 39 and 56.2 marks, respectively.

As for the second exam, the examinees’ average score was 58 marks, far lower than the 95.8 in average achieved by 39 Primary Two Hong Kong local students who were invited by the team to join for comparison purposes.

Based on the results, it was concluded that Chinese proficiency of a majority of NCS high school students was not on par with that of local primary pupils, and much far behind that of their local counterparts of the same year.

Fan Kwok, former associate professor at HKBU’s language center, pointed out that NCS students are still able to get good scores in the Chinese language exam of the General Certificate of Secondary Education (GCSE) even if they have problems in using Chinese.

He explained by using an example of the reading paper of the GCSE Chinese language exam, which can be used as one of the ways to meet the minimum requirements of Chinese proficiency set by tertiary institutions.

The reason is that most of the questions in that paper are written in English and can be answered in English as well, Fan said.

Worrying that the situation may affect such students’ will to keep improving their Chinese language skill, the study team urged the government to review the existing practices, and develop Chinese curriculum suitable for NCS students and relevant teaching staff for the curriculum.

The Education Bureau has, since the 2014-2015 school year, implemented the Chinese Language Curriculum Second Language Learning Framework to step up support for NCS students in learning the Chinese language.

But observers have noted that the initiative has not had the desired impact.

Earlier this year, the Office of the Ombudsman suggested that the bureau should review the framework on a regular and timely basis.

However, as of now there doesn't seem to have been any such review.

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