An international study found that students who learned Chinese in Cantonese performed almost the same as those who learned the language in Mandarin.

The Progress in International Reading Literacy Study is conducted by the International Association for the Evaluation of Educational Achievement every five years. Hong Kong was ranked third, dropping from first place in 2011 behind Russia and Singapore.

In the 2016 study of 50 countries and territories, 139 schools in Hong Kong were randomly selected, involving 3,500 students at primary four level. 64 per cent of the schools used Mandarin as a medium to teach Chinese and their students scored an average of 569 points, two points lower than that of students from schools which used Cantonese as medium.

Photo: GovHK.

Around 70 per cent of primary schools have classes using Mandarin as a medium to teach Chinese.

Professor Tse Shek-kam of the University of Hong Kong’s Faculty of Education, who was responsible for the study, said the two-point difference was not significant statistically, showing that using Mandarin as a medium would not significantly increase Chinese reading levels.

Tse said schools using Mandarin as a teaching medium may need six months more to teach pronunciation and allow time for students to adapt to the curriculum, thus their progress may be delayed.

He suggested that the schools could switch back to Cantonese for more complex discussions among students and teachers.

Tse Shek-kam.

Hong Kong students were one of the groups least interested in reading classes. Tse said the classes should be adjusted to engage their interest.

Meanwhile, students with parents who had more interest in reading scored on average 535 points, 87 points higher than those with parents with less interest.

The study also found that students who did not attend after-school tuition classes scored on average 582 points, 19 points higher than those who attended.

Tse said parents’ reading habits directly affect children’s reading habits and results. He said parents should read more with their children, which may be more effective than attending tuition classes.

Kris Cheng

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.