It is hard to understand how the proposal to teach simplified Chinese in schools can be blown up into a political issue by opposition politicians and commentators.

The Education Department has said the proposal was made based on "practical" considerations without any political motives. But that has not stopped the rabid "democrat" and "localist" factions from labeling the move as "brainwashing".

Their unreasonable objections and apparent paranoia are not a surprise. What is surprising is that the proposal to teach young Hong Kong people to read and write simplified Chinese was not made much earlier.

Economic integration with the mainland began in the early 1980s. In those early years, many Hong Kong business people must have struggled to understand written communication in simplified Chinese from their associates and partners on the mainland.

Many of them took crash courses in simplified Chinese - not only to meet daily business needs but also to keep themselves better informed of the latest economic and political developments on the mainland.

Since the 1997 handover, the process of economic and cultural integration with the mainland to the obvious benefit of Hong Kong has gathered pace. As such, there is an urgent need for Hong Kong people to gain proficiency in reading and writing in simplified Chinese.

It is particularly important for younger Hong Kong people to better understand the mainland social and political system to avoid being misled by radicals brandishing the so-called "localism" banners.

Many Hong Kong parents are keen to send their children to English-language schools, thinking that proficiency in English can help them land better jobs. They should welcome the opportunity for their children to learn simplified Chinese which can further their competitiveness in the job market.

It is pointless to get into the argument of "orthodoxy". It can only be a good thing if the easier-to-learn simplified characters can help improve the abysmal standard of Chinese of Hong Kong students.

By the way, pinyin, the official phonetic system for transcription, should be taught together with the simplified characters. The system is adopted not only on the mainland but also in Singapore which has made Putonghua the language of instruction in schools.

(HK Edition 02/16/2016 page8)

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