Last year, the Ministry of Education (MOE) announced key changes to the GCE O-level Chinese Language Examination.

Among the changes were…

…the reduction of character list, the reduced burden of character memorisation and the increased weightage given to the speaking and listening component.

The MOE took the steps primarily to “make Chinese a ‘living’ language and develop in students a lifelong interest in Chinese language and culture”.

It was a good move, I thought. And I was quietly happy with it because learning the language would be easier.

After experiencing one year of the new syllabus, I am not too sure if my initial response was correct.

I am beginning to feel anxious if I can do well in the subject. After all, I will be among the first batch of “guinea pigs” that will have examinations, based on the new syllabus, in the GCE O-level Chinese Language.

My apprehension stems from the difficulties I am facing in preparing for my O-level examination next year.

I do not know what to do but I read as widely as possible. It is like groping around in the dark. And I do not know if the readings will be of any help to me in the examination.

My mother’s friend, who is a Chinese language teacher in another school, told her that he did not know what to teach. As there were no past examination papers to fall back on as a guide, he had no choice but to do it by trial and error.

It frightened me to hear that. But my first reaction was: Why didn’t he bring it up to the MOE?

According to my mother, he said that it would be of no use.

I understand from one large bookshop that next year’s Chinese textbook for Secondary Four will only be ready at the end of the year.

That would set me back for two months. I thought that I could have spent the school holidays studying the texts to get ready for the new school term, when I could reinforce what I would have learned.

Using the current Secondary Four textbook as a study guide may not be a good option as, apparently, it does not have what’s relevant to the new syllabus. For this year, my school did not use the existing textbook at all. Instead, the teacher gave us notes to study.

This has caused concerns to some parents. Their fears were allayed when they were assured that the significant phrases and words in the textbook had been taught.

Before anyone gets me wrong, let me clarify that I have a very good Chinese language teacher. She was responsible for my interest in the subject, and I hope to live up to her expectations. However, I am sure she has found it challenging churning out appropriate notes to prepare us for the “big day”.

According to my tuition teacher, many students are having difficulty with the comprehension passages as the subjects covered are very wide.

Therefore, it is essential for them to have a sound vocabulary – that is, they need to recognise more characters and understand their meanings to be able to appreciate the various passages.

Will this not defeat the original purpose of reducing the character list? I am not against the changes as they are for a broader objective. However, I feel that the implementation of such changes has to be properly planned in future.

The Curriculum Planning and Development Division of the MOE should produce suitable course textbooks first.

Then, the teachers should be briefed and given adequate time to find the best way to teach their students.

After that, introduce the changes to the students, giving them at least two years to adjust to the new requirements.

It is certainly not an ideal state to introduce the changes immediately; let the teachers do what they think is right; and then produce the textbooks, giving the first batch of students only 10 months to prepare for their examinations on the subject.

The process of changing the new curriculum does not have to be done in a hurry.

Otherwise, it will give the impression that something is very wrong with the current practice.

(This entry was published in the TODAY of 6 December 2005)