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September 2011

More silly ESF letters

The problem with the “debate” about the ESF on the letters page of the South China Morning Post is that most of the correspondents stick to whatever is their chosen line of argument, and fail to engage with their opponents.  Here’s a prime example (from Thursday):

ESF must accept level playing field

Letters in support of the English Schools Foundation's (ESF) subvention are written characteristically without regard to relevant facts and their moral significance.

Good start.

Jonathan Leung ("ESF schools contribute to international character of city", September 5) omits the fact that 35 per cent of the ESF's subsided places are occupied by selective non-residents who are not entitled to public subsidies.

Really?  35% of the students are not Hong Kong residents?  Or not permanent residents?  All Hong Kong residents have to pay tax, and their children are entitled to attend government schools and DSS (Direct Subsidy Scheme) schools.   Oh, and the ESF website says “About 70% of [ESF] students have parents who are permanent residents of Hong Kong”. 

Despite his predilection for "international" character, he seems unaware that international norms censure linguistic discrimination such as that perpetrated by the ESF, and which is outlawed in all native English-speaking countries.

We could really end the letter here.  Cynthia Sze (and others) simply object to the idea of having schools that give priority to non-Cantonese speakers.  It’s easy to make that sound outrageous until you consider that English is an official language of Hong Kong, and the local school system is (unsurprisingly) designed to cater for Cantonese speakers, and so that’s why we have the ESF.  And although a large number of Cantonese-speaking students still find their way into ESF schools there are plenty of parents who are outraged that their children weren’t granted an interview – or worse, were not offered a place.  

Richard Di Bona's complaint about the government not providing adequate educational opportunities in English, an official language, shows his disregard for Hong Kong's internationally acclaimed universal education ("ESF fills role government should play", September 2). English is the medium of instruction of many local schools. Local secondary graduates readily gain admission to native English-speaking universities overseas and satisfy their language requirements.

Local schools prepare students for public examinations which are markedly more stringent than the overseas exams taken by ESF students. That's why ESF students don't take local exams whereas local students readily take overseas exams.

ESF students take the IGCSE and IB Diploma examinations.  Not English GCSEs and A levels. 

The ESF's popularity is due largely to its extraordinary staff benefits and unusually student-friendly programme. Its hyped "international" appeal is warped and vacuous. Social justice requires that the ESF, a subsidised institution, must align its staff benefits and admission practice fairly with social norms.

Mr Di Bona should realise that the English which the Basic Law provides as an official language is local English and not native English, just like Cantonese, which is local Chinese, is the de facto official Chinese language of Hong Kong. If local English fails to become socially functional like Singlish in Singapore, the use of English as an ancillary official language will decline naturally and should discontinue in 2047.

Good plan.  Teach students “local Hong Kong English” (which isn’t very useful) and then we can drop it as an official language.

Hong Kong will always be Cantonese-speaking because the Chinese are not hegemonic like the English who have obliterated the Celtic and the Romance languages in Britain. Promotion of native English will render Hong Kong an accomplice in the hegemony of the English language. We need a unified language policy for minorities of various mother tongues.

I see.  So China isn’t trying to promote Putonghua as the national language to replace local dialects.  And someone should tell her how much government funding is provided to support the Welsh language.

The objective of public education is to promote social coherence which can't be achieved if we continue the divisive policy of the bygone colonial administration and segregate our students into local English schools, native English schools, schools for non- native English-speaking minorities, and so forth.

Cynthia Sze, Quarry Bay

A mischievous sub-editor put this next letter immediately after Cynthia Sze’s diatribe:

Puzzled by opposition to English

As a non-native English speaker I am often baffled by the anti-English sentiments in some quarters of Asia's world city.

Furthermore it is fascinating to see that while English has an aura of "cool" to youngsters all over the world (including mainland China) this does not seem to be the case here.

I foresee that in 10 years' time the whole world will speak (a sort of) English except for one pocket in the southeast of China: Hong Kong.

Josephine Bersee, Mid-Levels