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First two public immersion schools open in Hong Kong

May 30, 2015

Bilingual classes in Hong Kong public schools suit Chinese and non-Chinese alike

Two public schools have stepped up to the challenge of providing cost-effective options for bilingual learning

PUBLISHED : Monday, 26 January, 2015, 6:15am
UPDATED : Monday, 26 January, 2015, 6:15am

While the number of international schools in Hong Kong has grown over the past decade, non-Chinese parents, among them long-time residents in Hong Kong, are looking for a bilingual education for their children, and at a much lower cost.

And two public schools have sought to meet their need.

“Eight years ago, we noticed that the number of non-Chinese families living in Sai Kung was growing,” says the principal of the Lee Sin Yam Memorial Primary School, Lewis Ng Chor-kung.

“Some of them had children who were enrolled in local kindergartens, and receiving basic bilingual education. I met parents who were looking for a school with a more well-rounded environment where both English and Cantonese are used, so we decided to alter our curriculum to cater for these needs.”

The core curriculum at Lee Sin Yam is similar to other public schools, except that they have two streams. In one stream, all subjects are taught in Chinese (except English).

In the other stream (the Chinese-English stream), core subjects such as mathematics and computer studies are taught in English, while other subjects are taught in Cantonese or Putonghua. Children who come from households where Cantonese is not used receive extra language assistance through project-learning, debate, drama, sports and field trips incorporated into the curriculum, allowing them to interact with Cantonese-speaking children in a more informal environment.

“The programme benefits both local Chinese and non-Chinese students. The students develop better language skills not only in the classroom, but also from their social interactions, and they get a rich multicultural experience. The programme is structured so it reduces the use of textbooks and focuses on task-based projects and real-world learning. Having a mixture of native English and native Cantonese speakers means both groups benefit in their bilingual training. It is refreshing to see young learners embrace other languages and cultures,” says Ng.

George Woodman, a Briton who has been living in Hong Kong since 1997, enrolled his son at Lee Sin Yam so he can learn Cantonese. “Lee Sin Yam reflects the Sai Kung community. The students in international schools tend to come from a subset of the community, but we value the diversity,” he says.

Susan Yeung enrolled her two daughters, Chloe and Caley, at the school for similar reasons. Although her family speaks Cantonese at home, she says she didn’t want her children to attend a local Chinese school because she feels that the workload at such schools is often too heavy.

“It is important that my girls are bilingual and biliterate in Chinese, but also proficient in English. I don’t think their Chinese would have been up to par if they had gone to an international school, and I think their English would not be as good if they had gone to a regular Chinese medium school. Lee Sin Yam has a good mix of cultural backgrounds, so it feels like an international school with the benefit of being cost free,” Yeung says.

HKTA Yuen Yuen Institute No 3 Secondary School recently introduced a curriculum tailored to foreign students. They learn subjects such as maths, liberal studies, integrated science and computer studies in English, but Chinese language and “living Chinese” – a more practical substitute subject for Chinese history, are taught in Putonghua; and design and technology, home economics, visual arts, physical education, music and religious and ethical education in both English and Cantonese.

It is refreshing to see younger learners embrace other languages

The Education Bureau provides funding for non-Chinese speaking students in all government and aided schools, so Lee Sin Yam and Yuen Yuen used these extra funds to support their programmes. “The bureau advocates progressive change, and our curriculum has many elements of its suggested modules of learning. We did not need to get permission for a curriculum change, as our programme already addresses concepts that the bureau suggests for non-Chinese speaking students,” says principal Ng.

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