Preparatory year halts drop in student volume

Monday, February 28, 2011
Issue 1246, Page 3
Word count: 954
Published in: Macau Daily Times

By Poyi (Natalie) Leung

“We’re not an international school. Portuguese is the main language here and we follow Portugal’s educational system,” stressed Maria Edith da Silva, president of the Portuguese School of Macau (EPM).

The school currently has more than 10 non-Portuguese students from different countries such as the Philippines, Thailand, Ukraine and the UK, but all of them have already picked up Portuguese and are communicating in this language with their classmates, who are mainly from the Portuguese or Macanese community.

The 2010/11 academic year is a turning point for EPM, since it is the first time over the past 13 years that the school hasn’t reported a decrease in the student volume but has registered an increase, Silva told the Macau Daily Times during the school’s open day on Saturday.

When EPM was founded in 1998, there were about 1,100 students in total, Silva recalled. “The decrease was most significant during the first few years after the handover of Macau between 1999 and 2001. In the worst year we lost almost 100 students,” she said.

Since then, the number of graduates continued to outstrip the new student intakes at EPM and its student volume kept diminishing by an average of 30 per academic year.

The number of students dropped to 459 in the 2009/10 academic year, but Silva said the decline finally started to narrow down to below 20.

Now, the student volume has risen to 462, and Silva said there are still many parents coming to ask whether there are places available.

The breakthrough, according to Silva, is highly attributable to the preparatory year launched in 2009 aimed at offering intensive language classes of 12 hours per week for people who wish to study at EPM but don’t know Portuguese.

The one-year program, she said, is also a strategy to boost its student intake.

“The result [of the program] is very good,” Silva told the MDTimes.

“This year’s experience has greatly boosted our confidence. I’m confident that even if the number of new intakes in the next academic year isn’t going to exceed that of this year, it can still remain stable,” she said.

According to the president, the school’s existing resources and manpower are able to handle up to 500 students.

In the first year of the preparatory year program seven people were enrolled and all of them are now studying in the formal curriculum at EPM, where Portuguese is the medium of instruction.

There are 17 students from Macau, China, Hong Kong, Costa Rica, Ukraine, Italy and Scotland attending the 2010/11 classes.

Bosco, a Chinese student from Macau, is one of these 17 students and his Portuguese language skills are already good enough for him to carry out daily conversations with classmates and understand his teachers’ instructions.

“I think Portuguese is easier [to learn] than English,” the seven-year-old told the MDTimes.

Bosco’s parents are of Portuguese nationality but don’t know the language. “That’s why we want our son to learn it,” his father, Mr Sou said.

“To speak Portuguese requires you to roll the tongue a lot and it will be easier for you to learn other languages,” he pointed out.

“Being able to speak Portuguese, English and Mandarin will enable my son to widen his career prospects in the future, especially as Macau is a platform between China and the Portuguese-speaking countries in the world.”

Foreign languages reinforced

In the 2005/2006 academic year, EPM turned English and Mandarin as compulsory subjects and as a result, students from the primary and secondary school divisions have three or four classes weekly to learn each of the languages.

“EPM’s goal is that when our senior high school students graduate, they are good at their mother tongue – which is Portuguese – and also two foreign languages – which are English and Mandarin, so that they can enter any of the universities in the world,” Silva told the MDTimes.

While Portugal has remained the most common place for EPM graduates to pursue tertiary education, Silva said Australia, the UK and the USA have become increasingly popular for them in recent years.

“Our students’ English language skill doesn’t worry the school too much, because a lot of our graduates were able to enter universities in western countries directly [without needing to take English tests],” she said.

However, since EPM only started teaching Mandarin as a compulsory subject in 2005 and “a lot of parents hope their kids can master a certain level of this Chinese language”, Silva said that in the year ahead one of the school’s tasks is to strengthen the Mandarin courses on the campus.

A cooperation agreement has recently been established with the Macau Polytechnic Institute, which will not only provide training for EPM’s Mandarin teachers, but will also review their teaching styles and classes as well as evaluate students’ Mandarin levels.

Ms Chao’s seven-year-old Macanese daughter was one of the students performing Portuguese folk dance during the open day on Saturday.

The mother said she and her Portuguese husband are thinking of putting their child into another school next year where the priority is put on teaching English and Mandarin.

“I think if my daughter develops her career in Macau, it’s better for her to learn English and Mandarin which will give her more opportunities and choices,” Ms Chao told the MDTimes.

She said since her daughter already has a good Portuguese foundation, it will be enough for her to pick up the language again some time later in the future. “But Chinese is a difficult language, particularly Macau uses the traditional characters, which must be learnt from childhood.”

Although EPM does offer Mandarin classes, Ms Chao said she seldom sees her daughter with assignments that enable her to practice the Chinese writing skill at home.

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