Monday, 11 June 2012

Students' Chinese Skills Are Falling

Hong Kong students must learn to write characters properly
It's not surprising to find youngsters in Hong Kong cannot write Chinese characters anymore now that they depend on texting on computers and mobile phones.

The decline has led educators to observe students are unwilling to make an effort to write out complex characters or compose proper sentences.

Karen Li Oi-wan, who has taught Chinese at secondary schools for 25 years has noticed pupils are getting lazier about writing Chinese characters. Instead they create ones that look similar -- which she says is a sign of declining language skills in recent decades.

"Unlike in the 1980s, it is common to find wrong characters in students' writing today," Li said. "They even get common characters wrong... for homework, they also ask to type it out on the computer rather than write it out."

Li's comments reflect the results of the now defunct Hong Kong Certificate of Education Examination -- that was replaced this year with the Diploma of Secondary Education -- which shows the results in Chinese language are getting worse.

Last year, just 30.2 percent of candidates earned at least level 3, the rough equivalent to a C grade in the exam, down from 42 percent in 2009 and 38.1 percent in 2010.

Students must reach level 2 standards to qualify for the last two years of high school.

There are fewer candidates who are getting the highest scores, or level 5*. The percentage fell from 1.8 percent of students in 2010 to just 0.4 percent last year.

Those who reached level 5 fell from 5.2 percent to 1.3 percent, and for level 4, the number fell from 17.9 percent to 8.5 percent.

However, there was no significant drop in English language, with 40.1 percent passing level 3 or higher, the same as in 2009 and up from 38.9 percent in 2010.

Form Three pupil Phoebe Choi admitted her Chinese was poor and explained she and her peers don't have much motivation to write Chinese characters properly.

She said that when they communicated on social networking sites like Facebook, they used their own self-invented language or code.

"Sometimes it is difficult to decipher the codes, but everyone is using them, and you feel like an outcast if you don't follow," Choi explained.

"Technology has had a very big impact on me. There are so many characters I don't know and I am put off by Chinese books," she said.

Nevertheless, when compared with mainland Chinese students who also have the same gadgets, their Chinese standards are still high as learning classic literary texts is compulsory in school.

Essays dating back to the Han and Ming dynasties are part of the curriculum for mainland secondary schools. The National College Entrance Examination or gaokao also tests students on their knowledge of the subject. Students are also not allowed to type assignments on a computer.

Ho Miu-ling, a former Chinese teacher in Hong Kong said the problem with the city's students is that they are taught the language the same way English -- as a second language, rather than making it a priority.

Why is the Hong Kong education system coddling students when it comes to learning Chinese, in particular Cantonese?

We must be working harder to preserve the language as much as possible -- and that starts in the classroom.

In the meantime students must be taught by their parents and teachers the importance of learning Chinese properly and how it affects our culture -- Hong Kong's culture, its identity and its people.

No wonder people believe Cantonese is disappearing and it's our fault.

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