Harrow International School in Tuen Mun will no longer teach traditional Chinese characters from August 2019, according to a letter sent to parents from the school on Monday.

“Whilst we know there are many reasons why our context makes the teaching of traditional characters desirable, we need to prepare our pupils to by fully literate in the context that Hong Kong will be in by 2047,” said Principal Deputy Head Annabel Davies to parents in the letter.

Harrow International School. Photo: Wikicommons.

“As a British International School where English is the language our curriculum is taught in, we believe that this is a decision that will enable us to produce and sustain excellence in the Chinese programme,” she continued.

Changes from traditional to simplified characters – a writing system used more commonly in mainland China – have often been controversial locally.

‘Phased transition’

The school said it will enact a “phased transition” to simplified characters, as pupils up to ten-years-old move up from lower grades. However, it does not affect their current GCSE or A-Level programmes, and the school said it will “introduce more Co-Curricular activities using traditional characters” in the future.

Photo: Harrow International School.

The school confirmed the changes with HK01.

In response, Education lawmaker Ip Kin-yuen told Apple Daily on Wednesday that nobody knows what will happen to Hong Kong after 2047 – when the Basic Law that maintains Hong Kong’s way of life under the One Country, Two Systems principle expires.

However, Ruth Benny, founder of Top Schools Hong Kong, told HKFP that the changes may not have a big impact: “With all students studying simplified characters, it doesn’t prevent streaming but does simplify allocation of resources, assessments, etc. [It] seems very sensible and not a big issue. Harrow is not known for its strong Chinese program. Parents choose the school for reasons other than Chinese; it’s a minor component of the whole offering.”

The Education Bureau faced criticism in 2016 over its suggestion that primary school students should learn to read simplified Chinese characters.

Last September, activist Alvin Cheng was fined HK$3,000 for hiding and binning books written in simplified Chinese as a protest.

Jennifer Creery

Jennifer Creery is a Hong Kong-born British journalist, interested in minority rights and urban planning. She holds a BA in English at King's College London and has studied Mandarin at National Taiwan University.