Original Paper

Language Policy

, Volume 10, Issue 1, pp 19-36

First online:

Historical and comparative perspectives on the medium of instruction in Hong Kong

  • Stephen EvansAffiliated withDepartment of English, Hong Kong Polytechnic University Email author 

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The 2010–2011 academic year marked the beginning of a new chapter in the long and controversial history of medium-of-instruction (MOI) policy in Hong Kong. Under the government’s “fine-tuning” policy, schools hitherto compelled to use Chinese as the MOI have been given more scope to teach in English at junior secondary level, thereby eliminating the unpopular, language-based bifurcation of schools that was introduced after the departure of the British in 1997. This article views the new policy from two perspectives that are often overlooked in the now voluminous literature on the MOI in Hong Kong. First, few studies have made connections between the issues and problems that have confronted policy makers, teachers and students in the modern era and those which faced their counterparts in earlier periods in Hong Kong’s history. Second, few studies have viewed language-related developments in Hong Kong in relation to policies and practices in other colonial and post-colonial societies. This article ranges across two centuries and around the former British Empire and Commonwealth in an attempt to offer the temporal and spatial perspectives that are currently lacking in the literature. These perspectives offer pointers as to the likely consequences of the “fine-tuning” policy.


Chinese Colonial language policy English Hong Kong Medium of instruction Mother-tongue teaching