The first public school to offer all levels of education in Macau and the only one in Macau adopting Pǔtōnghuà as medium of instruction
MB February 2021 Special Report | One city, four ‘languages’
The news went relatively unnoticed, but two preschools in Macau were selected a few months ago to be among the 50 preschools with the greatest influence in all Asia-Pacific in 2020: the Tongnam School and the Escola Oficial Zheng Guanying (Zheng Guanying Official School, or EOZGY).
While the first is a private school, although it belongs to the local Free Education Schools Network, the second is a public school.
This list is aimed at highlighting early childhood education institutions that, in the Asia-Pacific region, “have made outstanding contributions and are an influence in this area at the international level, in order to inspire educators and institutions to promote exchanges, cooperation and development in child education in various countries and regions in Asia and the world.”
This is probably the most peculiar school in Macau.
It began as the first public school to offer all levels of education in Macau – kindergarten, primary education, general secondary and complementary secondary education, the so-called ‘dragon school.’
But there is another characteristic that distinguishes it: it is the only school in Macau to present Pǔtōnghuà as a language of instruction.
In addition, as explained to Macau Business by researcher Ana Paula Dias, author of a doctoral thesis on EOZGY, students “have Portuguese and English subjects with much greater workloads than those of other public schools, as well as some subjects taught in these languages, such as geography or the arts, which are taught in a foreign language.” The thesis is entitled Zheng Guanying Official School – case study of a trilingual intercultural project in Macau (Escola Oficial Zheng Guanying – estudo de caso de um projeto intercultural trilingue em Macau, in the original language), and was presented in 2017 in Portugal.
There are other schools in Macau that offer bilingual classes, but none with students of such an early age (3 years old).
Bilingual classes (Pǔtōnghuà and Portuguese) start in the 1st year of primary education.
Ana Paula Dias emphasizes that “research in this area indicates that early immersion is preferable to late immersion.” This researcher at CEMRI – Center for Studies on Migration and Intercultural Relations, Universidade Aberta, Lisbon, understands that “in any case, the EOZGY model, as a public school, would always be preferable to that of schools that do not orient their curriculum so much towards the teaching and learning of languages, since the language has come to be recognized as a fundamental part in establishing the dialogue between nations for the mutual benefit of promoting democratic citizenship, social cohesion and also with regards to economy and security.”
Such a pioneering project was not born without some turbulence, as evidenced by the fact that news emerged in 2017 that there were parents who had doubts about the pilot project for bilingual classes, which forced the School Board to publicly clarify that the EOZGY program “follows the framework of non-tertiary education that is put in place by the Government” and that the objective of language teaching was defined as soon as the school was created in 2011.
“We value our communication with parents, and we believe that parents are important partners for the education of their children,” EOZGY’s principal Carmen Chan told Macau Business. “In fact, more than 90 percent of the parents whose children are in the third year of kindergarten prefer to enroll their children in the bilingual class in primary education. This number alone shows parents’ confidence in our bilingual project,” Ms Chan adds.
With the first finalist students completing their training this year (up to the 12th grade), it was important to take stock of the experience, not least because it is common knowledge that the school has seen the enrollment of fewer and fewer foreign students, reduced to 2 or 3 percent of the 500 who now attend EOZGY. “We give importance to bilingual education because this is the mission of the school. However, Chinese is the first language in EOZGY,” states Carmen Chan. “We welcome students of all nationalities; as for foreign students who study in EOZGY, we have taken measures to support them. For example, we provide free Chinese support classes to students, and all notices to parents are both in Chinese and Portuguese.”
Macau Business also contacted the mother of the oldest non-Chinese child at EOZGY. Diana Massada was “satisfied with her son’s experience” at school, “although, as in any school, there are less positive aspects.”
Namely, Ms Massada regrets the lack of more foreign students, which may undermine “the desired results. When Zheng Guanying students finish primary school, they still do not speak Portuguese independently,” fears Diana Massada, who also belongs to the Parents’ Association. “There will be Chinese kids with some ability to understand Portuguese when they finish 12th grade, with a greater cultural appetite, but I don’t think they will, except for some more exceptional cases, be truly bilingual, trilingual, or even quadrilingual.”
The Government, via Education and Youth Affairs Bureau (DSEJ), reaffirmed that “the school attaches great importance to the cultivation of students’ character, basic learning abilities and diverse potential.” For DSEJ, “the school, shouldering the important mission of cultivating Chinese and Portuguese bilingual talent, is dedicated to providing students with triliterate and quadrilingual learning and with life experience of diverse cultures.”
“The model of a school that seeks to train students with high proficiency in Chinese, Portuguese, and English has to be based on a solidly structured project which aims at medium- and long-term results, which will monitor the process and evaluate the results, introducing corrections and changes if necessary. It must also be based on effective and stable leadership and on professionals with adequate training in foreign language teaching,” Ana Paula Dias told Macau Business.
Schools are free to choose languages
The Government understands that schools have the autonomy to choose the language of instruction, and that they have never been instructed to teach classes in Pǔtōnghuà.
“DSEJ never forced schools to teach Chinese in Pǔtōnghuà, nor did it require them to teach other subjects in Pǔtōnghuà,” said DSEJ director Lou Pak Sang.
Lou Pak Sang pointed out that schools can develop their own curricula and choose the language of instruction, ensuring that language teaching policies in the field of non-tertiary education “emphasize the importance of conserving habits and traditions in the use of language, spoken and written, in Macau.”
The DSEJ also argues that the academic demands are due to the “need for balance” between the Pǔtōnghuà and the Cantonese, who have “great cultural wealth,” according to the director of the DSEJ, who recalled that this body issued several teaching materials printed in traditional Chinese characters.
The curricular objectives include the fluent use of Cantonese and the use of Pǔtōnghuà for basic communication.
DSEJ promises to continue to support schools to enable students to learn Cantonese and Pǔtōnghuà simultaneously, and to use at least one foreign language, such as Portuguese or English, to “increase competitiveness.”