Provisional Legislative Council

PLC Paper No. CB(1)797
(These minutes have been
seen by the Administration)

Ref : CB1/PL/ED

Provisional Legislative Council
Panel on Education

Minutes of Meeting held on Friday, 19 December 1997, at 10:45 am in Conference Room A of the Legislative Council Building

Members present :

Hon YEUNG Yiu-chung (Chairman)
Prof Hon NG Ching-fai (Deputy Chairman)
Hon Mrs Peggy LAM, JP
Dr Hon Mrs TSO WONG Man-yin
Hon TSANG Yok-sing
Dr Hon Charles YEUNG Chun-kam
Hon IP Kwok-him

Member attending :

Hon Mrs Selina CHOW, JP

Members absent :

Hon David CHU Yu-lin
Hon Eric LI Ka-cheung, JP
Hon Henry TANG Ying-yen, JP
Hon MA Fung-kwok
Hon Andrew WONG Wang-fat, JP
Dr Hon LAW Cheung-kwok

Public officers attending :

For all items

Mr Joseph LAI
Deputy Secretary for Education and Manpower (3)

Mr Raymond CHAN
Assistant Secretary for Education and Manpower 2(1)

Mrs Helen C P LAI YU
Director of Education

For Item V

Assistant Director of Education(Allocation and Support)

For Item VI

Mr J D Willis
Controller, Student Financial Assistance Agency

Senior Education Officer (Private Schools Review)

Clerk in attendance :

Miss Polly YEUNG
Chief Assistant Secretary (1)3

Staff in attendance :

Ms Sarah YUEN
Senior Assistant Secretary (1)4

I Confirmation of minutes of meeting and matters arising
(PLC Paper No. CB(1)650)

The minutes of the Panel meeting held on 21 November 1997 were confirmed.

II Date and items for discussion for next meeting

2. Members agreed that subject to the Administration's confirmation, the agenda for the next regular meeting to be held on Friday, 16 January 1998, at 10:45 a.m. would include the following items -

  1. Revision of textbooks;

  2. Strategy on education on information technology; and

  3. Review on direct subsidy to kindergartens.

III Information papers issued since last meeting
(PLC Paper Nos. CB(1)530, 572, 644 and 673)

3. Members noted that four information papers had been issued for their general reference.

IV Mother-tongue teaching
(PLC Paper No. CB(1)678(01)

4. Noting that some schools had lodged an appeal to retain English as their medium of instruction (MOI), the Chairman reminded members to refrain from discussing individual cases but to concentrate on the policy aspects of implementing mother-tongue teaching.

Implementation of the policy on mother-tongue teaching

5. The Director of Education (D of E) emphasised that the aim of the policy on medium of instruction (MOI) was to enable students to learn effectively and pleasurably through an appropriate MOI, and to be biliterate (i.e., to master written Chinese and English) and trilingual (i.e., to speak fluent Cantonese, Putonghua and English). The Administration would therefore give equal emphasis to both English and Chinese. While schools which satisfied the prescribed requirements for effective use of the English medium could apply for approval to use English as their MOI, the D of E reiterated that such approval was not a comment on the performance of a school and should not be perceived as labelling. Many Chinese-medium schools were quality schools maintaining high standards.

6. Members in general concurred that to minimise misunderstanding and resistance, the Education Department (ED) should have better prepared the public before implementing the policy. Their suggested courses of action included ensuring proper interface with higher levels of studies, recommending successful Chinese-medium schools as role models, providing more resources to schools practising mother-tongue teaching, as well as requiring Government schools to take the lead in adopting Chinese as the MOI.

7. In response, the D of E advised that the ED had over many years actively promoted mother-tongue teaching through a variety of activities including seminars, briefings, media broadcasts and public education efforts. Besides, the objective of the policy had been clearly stated in the booklet on "Medium of Instruction-Guidance for Secondary Schools" (the Guidance) which was itself the product of a two-month public consultation exercise.

8. As regards the interface with higher levels of studies, the Administration acknowledged concerns about adaptation to the increased use of English in tertiary institutions and made it clear that at senior secondary levels, the MOI policy might be applied with more flexibility.

9. As for recommending successful Chinese-medium schools as role models, the D of E pointed out that the Administration had consistently been ready to extol openly the good performance of these schools. She further referred members to research findings that students from traditional Chinese-medium schools had consistently attained a higher pass percentage than the territory-wide average in both Chinese Language and English Language in the Hong Kong Certificate of Education Examinations.

10. Regarding support measures, the D of E emphasised that since the launch of the policy in 1986, the ED had been providing schools using Chinese as the MOI with additional resources to strengthen teaching and learning of English language. Such support measures included the provision of additional teachers of English, library grant for additional reading materials and other English teaching aids, partitions to create additional rooms for split-class teaching, and additional wirefree induction loop system to enhance teaching and learning through listening. Members noted that the recently established Quality Education Fund would make available further resources to schools practising mother-tongue teaching.

11. On the role of Government schools, the D of E stressed that to ensure fairness among schools and to offer parents greater choice, it was not appropriate to require all Government schools to practise mother-tongue teaching on a mandatory basis. Moreover, only 14 out of 36 Government schools would use English as the MOI.

12. The D of E explained that the policy was in the interest of students and would not agree that its pace of implementation should be adjusted due to reluctance on the part of certain schools to give up English as their MOI. She reaffirmed the Administration's determination of implementing the policy as educational researches worldwide and in Hong Kong had shown that mother-tongue teaching would greatly enhance learning effectiveness for most students. With an increase in the number of schools practising mother-tongue teaching from about 80 to 300 in the following school year, the D of E anticipated that the benefits of mother-tongue teaching would in time become more apparent. Nevertheless, she acknowledged that parents' attitude might take a longer time to change and urged parents not to consider only the MOI when choosing schools for their children. Her view of a good school was one where the principal showed professional leadership, teachers were committed, students were motivated, the learning environment was strong, the school tradition positive and the education all-round.

Vetting applications from schools to use English as the MOI

13. In reply to questions on the vetting criteria, the D of E advised that whilst she was not a member of the Vetting Committee, she understood that the Committee had applied the three vetting criteria (viz. student ability, teacher capability, and support strategies and programmes) as a total package with some flexibility. The Vetting Committee had carefully considered each case on its own merits, having regard to the three criteria holistically.

14. Some members opined that the "student ability" criterion, which required an average percentage of not less than 85% of MOI Grouping Assessment Groups I and III students in the schools' Secondary 1 intake for the past three years, was unfair as schools had little say in the banding of students allocated to them. In response, the D of E explained that the percentage of student intake was only one element and, the potential for value-added performance of applicant schools would have been taken into account during the vetting process in examining support strategies and ED reports on the schools over the years.

15. A member cast doubt on the objectivity of the "teacher capability" criterion as the assessment of whether the teachers of an applicant schools were capable of teaching effectively in English was done by the school principals themselves. In response, the D of E pointed out that pending the establishment of language benchmarks for teachers, and having regard to the principle of school-based management and the accountability of the school principal, the principal's certification should be a reliable basis for accepting a school's claim that it could meet the "teacher capability" criterion. However, where there was difficulty for such school to teach certain non-academic subjects in English, the school concerned should apply to the ED for special permission to teach those subjects in Chinese.

16. As regards the criterion of "support strategies and programmes", the D of E clarified that such strategies and programmes could either be in progress, or under planning. In addition, the Vetting Committee might also require an applicant school to improve its support package as a condition for not objecting to its using English as the MOI.

17. On the vetting process, the D of E stressed that vetting had been conducted with reference to a school's performance observed through ED's regular inspections in the past, as well as the Curriculum Development Institute's assessment of the school's support package. Although in the vetting process, the Vetting Committee might visit a school, the information gathered from such visits was mainly supplementary in nature. The Vetting Committee would not judge a school's ability to use English as its MOI solely on the basis of a brief school visit.

The list of schools to be recommended to the D of E for approval to use English as the MOI (the list)

18. Responding to widespread criticisms that the ED's publication of the list had the effect of creating "brand schools", the D of E reiterated that the ED had no intention to classify schools as such and the list was intended to provide parents with clear information on the MOI of these schools. The ED would closely monitor the schools' compliance with the appropriate MOI and apply sanctions where non-compliance was detected. In particular, the ED would strengthen inspections to schools using English as the MOI and take prompt action on receipt of complaints. The situation would be reviewed generally in three years. In this connection, a member expressed support for the publication of the list as it could remove doubt about a school's MOI.

19. The D of E also refuted claims that approval had been given to some applicant schools because of high-level influence and clarified that with the exception of two schools, where the students' nationality would necessitate the use of English as the MOI, all schools on the list had generally satisfied the Vetting Committee as fulfilling the criteria for the use of English as the MOI.

The appeal mechanism

20. Some members opined that when considering appeal cases, the Appeals Committee should also take into account the schools' tradition and commitment in English teaching, and allow schools which marginally failed the "student ability" criterion to use English as their MOI. The D of E responded that to ensure fairness to schools which had not applied for using English as their MOI, the Appeals Committee had decided to adhere to the three promulgated vetting criteria in considering appeal cases. It would interview the principals of all appellant schools. The D of E also informed members that to allay concern over conflict of interest and to ensure credibility of the Appeals Committee, the Chairman of the Vetting Committee (i.e. Chairman of the Board of Education) and she had already volunteered to abstain from further deliberations of the Appeals Committee. However, they would continue to provide information or general expert advice at the request of the Committee.

V Allocation of school places
(PLC Paper No. CB(1)651(01)

21. The Assistant Director of Education (Allocation and Support) briefed members on the Administration's information paper outlining the present Secondary 1 (S1) and Secondary 4 (S4) places allocation methods.

22. Some members opined that although the reported percentage of students allocated to outside districts was not high, the Administration should aim at lowering the percentage as much as practicable, having regard to the fact that such students were already in need of more assistance in their studies and that their academic performance might be affected by long home-school travels.

23. In response, representatives of the Administration explained that under the present S4 places allocation method, parents of students who could not continue S4 in their own schools could choose schools and areas for central allocation of S4 places. As such, it was inevitable that a small number of students might be allocated S4 places in relatively faraway districts. They nevertheless assured members that many of the students who could not attend schools in their own districts were allocated places in neighbouring districts only. The Administration acknowledged the concerns and referred members to the Board of Education's Report on Review of 9-year Compulsory Education in which two chapters were devoted to the review of the allocation systems.

24. To better gauge the extent of the problem for the purpose of working out solutions, a member suggested that a student's travelling time to and from school might serve as a more useful index and reflect students' hardship more realistically than "the number of students allocated to other districts".

25. In reply to members' concerns about the effect of the MOI policy on the allocation of school places, the Administration advised that, as indicated in the Guidance, to balance the provision of school places by school type in each S1 school net, schools using English as the MOI would be grouped to serve a number of neighbouring school nets. Likewise, the Administration would also exercise care to minimise student movements at S 4.

VI Textbook and stationery grant
(PLC Paper Nos. 669(01) and 678(02))

26. Members noted that the item had been added to the agenda following the Finance Committee's discussion of the Administration's funding request. There were concerns about the non-availability of textbook and stationery grant to needy students of private schools and the disbursement, if any, of such grant to Direct Subsidy Schools. Some members also suggested that to provide timely assistance, such grant should be payable prior to the commencement of the school term in September.

Provision of textbook and stationery grant to students in private schools under the Direct Subsidy Scheme (DSS)

27. On the availability of the grant to students of Direct Subsidy Schools, the Senior Education Officer (Private Schools Review) clarified that although schools participating in the DSS were not covered by the School Textbook Assistance Scheme (STAS), there was a component for textbook and stationery grant in the subsidy which DSS schools received from the Government. The basis of calculation was the Government's average expenditure on textbook assistance for S1 to S3 students of aided grammar schools in that school year.

28. To facilitate DSS schools in providing textbook assistance to their needy students from the subsidy, members proposed and the D of E agreed that the Administration would specify the components of the subsidy and advise DSS schools accordingly. Admin.

Disbursement of the grant before commencement of a school year

29. Responding to members' proposal that processing and disbursement of the grant to families of eligible students should be effected before the commencement of a school year, the Controller, Student Financial Assistance Agency (C/SFAA) highlighted the practical difficulties in implementing the proposal as follows -

  1. To disburse the grant before commencement of a school year, schools would be required to receive and process the applications in April/May, which were the busiest months for schools.

  2. In many cases, schools could only authenticate that the applicants were their students and confirm their classes at the start of a school year, especially in the case of students whose promotion to their next higher level would depend on central allocation and public examinations, namely, students of Primary 6, S3 and S5 being promoted to S1, S4 and S6.

  3. To simplify application procedures for the various financial assistance schemes available and achieve cost-effectiveness in processing applications, families presently used a combined application form for the grant, student travel subsidy, and fee remission which were subject to one means test mechanism. Before calculations of the amount of grant, travel subsidy and fee remission could be made, all necessary data had to be available, such as the most up-to-date public transport fares and actual term dates for the next school year, which could not be captured until the summer or confirmed until the start of the school year. While applications for the grant alone could be processed earlier for students whose promotion did not depend on central allocation or public examinations, families would need to submit separate applications for processing. The move would thus defeat the purpose of using a combined application and processing procedure. The processing of applications for students being promoted to S1, S4 and S6 would also need to be repeated after the results of central allocation and public examinations were released in the summer.

30. The C/SFAA pointed out that as most of the more financially needy students were from families receiving Comprehensive Social Security Assistance, these families normally received the necessary assistance for purchasing textbooks and stationery before the commencement of a school year. He also reported that the SFAA was developing a new computer system which would enable the SFAA to capture information from the database of the ED to reduce the time required for verification and rectification of the students' application details. In this connection, Members noted that a pilot scheme involving 20 schools would be launched in the following school year, which would facilitate a study to be made on the extent to which processing time might be shortened and whether disbursements could be made earlier.

31. Commenting on the possibility of effecting advance disbursement to DSS schools which provided textbook assistance to their students directly, the Deputy Secretary for Education and Manpower confirmed that the Government would review its policy on private schools and the DSS, the scope of which would cover the methodology for determining the textbook and stationery grant to DSS schools and the means of disbursing the grant.

32. The meeting ended at 12:45 p.m.

Provisional Legislative Council Secretariat
15 January 1998