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Science education and the medium of instruction : Chinese or English? Ho, Kwok Keung


This study investigated the relationship between academic achievement and proficiency in the language of instruction in a situation where instruction was in the second language of both students and teachers. The subjects were grade 10 physics students in Hong Kong whose first language was Chinese. After an extensive review of the literature, five specific problems were identified and a major hypothesis formulated. For the study, data were gathered from one hundred seventy six subjects selected from four classes in two secondary schools, one Chinese and one Anglo-Chinese. The first part of the study was to compare the physics achievement of groups receiving instruction in Chinese and English respectively. For three months (with four lessons per week), two classes of students learned the content material (Light and Sound) in Chinese and two classes learned the material in English. Group differences were controlled by using the individual aptitude scores (measured by an aptitude test battery) as covariates in the analysis. The second part of the study was to compare the physics achievement of the two classes of students in the same school. For two months (with five lessons per week), one class learned the content material (Mechanics) bilingually while another class learned the material in English. The third part of the study used the same subjects as in the second part. One class learned the material (Atomic Physics), for four lessons only, in English while the other learned the material in Chinese. The same kinds of procedures were used to control group differences as in the first part of the study. The fourth part of the study investigated the relationships among (i) physics achievement, English proficiency and. other factors (motivation, etc.), and also among (ii) English proficiency and the affective factors. English proficiency of the students was measured by a test battery consisting of five subtests. The motivational, affective factors and background variables were measured by a set of questionnaires. The English proficiency test battery and the questionnaires were administered to the students at different times during the controlled study periods. The following conclusions were drawn: 1) achievement in physics at the grade 10 level in the secondary schools of Hong Kong did not depend on the language of instruction. 2) Achievement in physics at the grade 10 level in the Anglo-Chinese schools of Hong Kong depended heavily on proficiency in English. 3) There seemed to be no significant differences in motivation in learning English between the Chinese and Anglo- Chinese school students. 4) The important factors in acquiring proficiency in English by the Chinese students appeared to be: self concept of academic ability, Chinese language usage, motivational intensity in English and Chinese verbal reasoning. 5) It did not take the students extra time and effort to learn physics at the grade 10 level when instruction is done in English rather than Chinese. The present study had certain weaknesses in its design. It would be desirable to replicate if using an improved method of sampling, refined tests and scales and also doing it in a longitudinal manner.

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