The Education Bureau is facing criticism over a suggestion in a consultation document that primary school students should learn to read simplified Chinese characters.

In a public consultation document on the renewal of the Chinese language education curriculum for primary and secondary schools, it was mentioned that students should have the ability to read simplified Chinese characters in order to have a wider reading range. It would also aid better communication with the mainland and overseas countries, after learning traditional Chinese characters, it said. The document suggested teaching Chinese in Mandarin should be continued.

It was released by the bureau’s Curriculum Development Council in December, and consultation questionnaires have been sent to primary and secondary schools. The public consultation lasts until February 15.

Primary school students.
Primary school students. File

A Chinese language teacher criticised the the suggestion on social media, saying that the bureau has been pushing Mandarin and simplified Chinese characters. She urged the education sector to protect Cantonese culture.

Her criticism, posted anonymously, sparked concerns over whether simplified Chinese characters would be used in schools.

A spokesperson for the Education Bureau said that the Chinese Language Education Key Learning Area Curriculum Guide had suggested fostering students’ ability to recognise and read simplified Chinese characters since 2002, as a basic component of curriculum planning, reported Apple Daily.

The spokesperson said that primary school students have not been asked to learn simplified Chinese characters; the bureau only suggested secondary school students should learn them based on their needs.

simplified chinese
Photo: CleverClaire, via Flickr.

‘Not necessary’

Fung Pik-yee, vice-president of the Hong Kong Professional Teachers’ Union, told the newspaper that she believed schools would still teach in traditional Chinese characters, and simplified Chinese characters were merely tools to read books.

She added that the consultation questionnaire bundled several suggestions into one suggestion, such as teaching Chinese in Mandarin and using simplified Chinese characters. She urged teachers to complete the questionnaire carefully.

Professor Tse Shek-kam, a Chinese language teaching expert at the University of Hong Kong, told the newspaper that students usually start reading books in simplified Chinese characters after primary five.

“They can learn it just by reading, there is no need to teach it,” Tse said, so it was not necessary to put simplified Chinese in the curriculum.

Kris Cheng is a Hong Kong journalist with an interest in local politics. His work has been featured in Washington Post, Public Radio International, Hong Kong Economic Times and others. He has a BSSc in Sociology from the Chinese University of Hong Kong. Kris is HKFP's Editorial Director.