Hong Kong students need to focus on learning Mandarin under a system where the language is incorporated into the local exam system for primary and secondary pupils, a report commissioned by the state ministry has proposed.
The latest report on the language situation in the Greater Bay Area also suggested simplified Chinese should be granted a legal status in the city, while language policies in Hong Kong and Macau should be enhanced to strengthen national identity.
But educators in the city on Wednesday raised questions over the feasibility of the suggestion by China’s Ministry of Education, arguing that Mandarin was already being taught and teachers needed to be better equipped.
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Using Mandarin to replace Cantonese as schools’ main language and introducing simplified Chinese in classrooms has been a controversial issue among educators, parents and students, with many local schools using Cantonese and traditional Chinese for years.
Although most pupils in primary and secondary schools have also already been learning some Mandarin under the city’s language policy since the handover from Britain to China in 1997, it is currently not part of the local university entrance exam system.
In 2018, city leader Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor told lawmakers it was a “non-issue” when it came to replacing Cantonese with Mandarin at public schools, adding that the government had no plans to change its policy on language education.
Preserving Cantonese as the city’s mother tongue was also advocated by concern groups and academics as more people in Hong Kong picked up Mandarin over the past decades.
“Policy wise, Hong Kong should perhaps suitably include Mandarin education as part of the exam and assessment system and achieve coherence in primary, junior secondary and senior secondary levels,” Professor Guo Xi, of Guangzhou University, said during a Ministry of Education press conference.
A team at the university wrote the report in collaboration with the State Language Commission, a statement from the ministry said.
The newly released study covers the bay area, which includes Hong Kong, Macau and nine Guangdong cities, and which Beijing wants to turn into a technological and financial powerhouse by 2035 to rival Silicon Valley.
While the usage of Mandarin has increased in Hong Kong and Macau, Cantonese remained predominant, Guo noted, while stressing the importance of “constructing a harmonious language situation in the GBA”.
But some teachers at local schools who spoke to the Post raised concerns over the report.
“Parents and students in Hong Kong may be concerned about the suggestions,” said a veteran secondary school teacher. “Learning Mandarin is something that pupils are already doing, and I cannot feel that there is an urgent need for pupils to learn simplified Chinese.”
Another secondary school teacher believed that major changes in the city’s language policy as suggested by the report might not be achieved soon, given there were many factors that needed to be considered, such as whether teachers were qualified.
Former opposition lawmaker Ip Kin-yuen, who is vice-president of the Professional Teachers’ Union, said any changes to language education policy should be based on the existing practice to equip students to learn Cantonese, Mandarin and English.
The local education scene has changed quickly following the Beijing-imposed national security law taking effect last June, with authorities needing school subjects to include a focus on patriotism and national identity, and a top official from the central government suggesting that teachers should align to the principle of “patriots governing Hong Kong”.
Wong Wai-shing, vice-chairman of the pro-establishment Federation of Education Workers, said a stronger focus on Mandarin – especially in senior secondary levels where there are limited lessons – was necessary for the city to “better integrate into the GBA”.
Wong, however, believed granting a legal status for simplified Chinese needed to be looked into carefully so it would not affect pupils’ learning progress at school.
An Education Bureau spokeswoman, while not commenting on whether it would adopt the suggestions in the ministry’s report, said the importance of Mandarin had already been demonstrated through lessons and other activities in the city’s primary and secondary schools.
She added that the government had also increased promotion of exchange trips to mainland China in a bid to improve the effectiveness of students’ lessons.
Additional reporting by Kanis Leung