Information Paper
Mother Tongue Teaching


On 27 March 1997, the Education Department issued a document (Annex 1) on Arrangement for Firm Guidance on Secondary Schools' Medium of Instruction for a two-month consultation with school sponsoring bodies, school councils, schools and teacher associations.

2. Since 1986, public sector secondary schools have been encouraged to adopt mother tongue teaching. In 1994, the Department started to provide secondary schools with advice on the language proficiency of their Secondary 1 intake, aiming to assist schools to choose an appropriate teaching medium. In the 1996/97 school year, 74 secondary schools have opted to use Chinese as the teaching medium; 108 schools have adopted Chinese medium either by class or by subject; and 219 schools opted for the English medium. Among those English medium schools, many have not opted for the medium according to the Department's advice and teaching in mixed-code is common. The Education Department's firm guidance on medium of instruction seeks to address this problem and facilitate effective teaching and learning in classrooms.

Evaluation study on the medium of instruction grouping in secondary schools

3. Educational research world-wide supports mother tongue teaching as more effective. To gauge the effect of different modes of teaching medium on the learning process and the academic achievement of pupils, the Education Department has been carrying out a three-year longitudinal evaluation study, from 1994/95 school year to 1996/97 school year. The preliminary findings of the first two years (Annex 2) show that students in schools adopting Chinese as the medium of instruction performed better in the language-loaded subjects of Geography, History and Science than those in schools using English as the medium of instruction against the advice of the Education Department. The evaluation study for the third year will be carried out in May and the analysis of the whole study will be completed before the end of 1997.

Publicity and Promotion

4. On-going efforts have been made in launching public education programmes on the merits of mother tongue teaching. Relevant activities, with the schedule for the current (1996/97) school year, are as follows:

aTelevision announcement
Radio announcement
from November 1996
March -May 1997
bFeature articles in local newspapersJanuary-March 1997
cSeminars for teachersJanuary - May 1997
dBooklets on research findings for parents of primary 4 to 6 pupilsApril - May 1997
ePosters and advertisements at Mass Transit Railway stationsMarch - May 1997
fPosters for all schools for use in parents' and teachers' activities.May 1997

Such efforts will continue.

Way Forward

5. Comments on the consultation document are welcome.

6. The Education Department will take into account the views received in the consultation exercise before finalising the firm guidance for issue to schools in September 1997. The implementation of the firm guidance will take effect in September 1998.

Education Department
April 1997

Annex 2

Summary of Preliminary Findings Evaluation Study on the Implementation of Medium of Instruction Grouping in Secondary Schools


This document summarizes the first two years' results of the three-year longitudinal Evaluation Study on the Implementation of Medium of Instruction Grouping in Secondary Schools.


2. The Education Commission recommended in its Report No. 4 in 1990 that Secondary 1 entrants be grouped in terms of their ability to learn in Chinese or English and that regular reviews be conducted to monitor progress and to consider whether stronger measures may be required to achieve the objectives of encouraging Chinese-medium instruction and minimising mixed-code teaching.

3. The Evaluation Study has been conducted since the 1994/95 school year and will be completed by the end of the 1996/97 school year.


4. Target secondary schools are divided into six categories (A to F) and 56 schools are sampled. Schools in Categories A to C are those not adopting a mode of instruction in accordance with the advice from Education Department (ED) while Categories D to F are.

Preliminary Findings

History, Geography and Science

5. Preliminary test results of the first two years of the study reveal a similar pattern of findings in both Secondary 1 (S1) and Secondary 2 (S2) for the more language-loaded subjects, i.e. History, Geography and Science. Pupils in Chinese-medium schools (Categories E and F) performed much better than their counterparts studying in English-medium or two-medium schools (Categories A to C) in these three subjects.

6. Table 1 below shows the mean standardised raw scores of pupils in the six categories for these three subjects:-

Table 1

CategoryED's advice on MOI#Schools' Choice of MOIAverage academic achieve-ment of S1 intake @Mean Standardised Raw Score*
43.51 43.2643.59
BCC+Elow44.2545.2143.9043.40 45.2346.41


CC or EEhigh63.5
60.59 60.15 63.82
ECClow 55.7
58.52 52.70 51.17
63.90 61.03 59.91

7. Pupils from Category F, which are mainly traditional Chinese middle schools, performed comparably and in some subjects out-performed pupils from Category D, i.e. schools with mostly Secondary 1 intake with the highest academic achievement. It is obvious that it takes longer time for even the best pupils to adapt when they have to switch from learning through the Chinese medium in primary schools to an English learning environment in secondary schooling.

Chinese, English and Mathematics

8. The results are not so straightforward and conclusive for the subjects of Chinese, English and Mathematics. In general, pupils' performance in these three subjects correlated highly with their academic ability.

Relevant Information to be analysed

9. In addition to tests in the six subjects mentioned above, questionnaires on "Learning Process" , "Self-esteem of Students", and "Teachers' Perception of Organisational Culture and Learning Environment of School" were also administered. These questionnaires served to gauge the effect of the different modes of teaching medium on the learning process of pupils and to allow a better control of the possible confounding factors involved in this Study. As the questionnaires reflect only the first two years' effect and the results need to be linked up with the academic performance of the pupils over the three years under study, it is not proper to draw any conclusion at this stage.

Arrangements for the Third Year Test Administration

10. According to our plan, the sample pupils, who are now in Secondary 3, will be tested again in May 1997 so that a three-year effect can be drawn up. A stronger writing element and more varied types of questions will be incorporated into the Secondary 3 achievement tests for the six subjects. These questions, which require more language processing, will be more able to gauge pupils' ability to express in complete sentences what have been learnt throughout their junior secondary education.

Education Department
April 1997

Last Updated on 14 August 1998