Language shift ahead of handover

6th February 1998 at 00:00

Critics claim the opening of a new school in Macao is an admission of defeat by the Portuguese administration which had promised to leave a Portuguese-speaking bastion in Asia.

The 600-pupil school, intended to teach Portuguese beyond the handover of sovereignty to China in 1999, has been described as only a "token gesture" by one legislator.

A foundation was set up last month to run Portuguese-curriculum schools, but these are being wound down and existing government schools are moving towards Cantonese. Most of the ethnic Portuguese- 4,000 of the 400,000 population- are expected to leave by 1999.

The Macao Portuguese Education Foundation (MEPA)is a joint undertaking by the Portuguese government, the Lisbon-based Orient Foundation and the Macanese Education Promotion Association. With a start-up capital of about Pounds 2 million, 51 per cent from Portugal, the foundation will set up the new school in September. It will cater for nursery pupils to 18-year-olds.

But several community leaders have complained about its small size. Legislator Morais Alves described the project as a "minimalist solution".

Although Chinese and Portuguese will both be official languages after 1999, Portuguese is barely used outside the civil service, and Portuguese schools make up just 5 per cent of the total.

At present 2,350 students attend schools teaching the Portuguese curriculum. This does not include the 14,000 who learn Portuguese as a foreign language.

Church schools, which make up 83 per cent of Macao's schools, are Chinese-medium and tend to teach English as the second language. The government allows students to choose between English and Portuguese but the importance of English as a world language and a shortage of Portuguese teachers has meant Portuguese is declining even as a second language.

Many believe the new school will be overshadowed by a larger, English-medium International School due to open in September.

Yojana Sharma

Log-in as an existing print or digital subscriber

Forgotten your subscriber ID?


To access this content and the full TES archive, subscribe now.

View subscriber offers


Get TES online and delivered to your door – for less than the price of a coffee

Save 33% off the cover price with this great subscription offer. Every copy delivered to your door by first-class post, plus full access to TES online and the TES app for just £1.90 per week.
Subscribers also enjoy a range of fantastic offers and benefits worth over £270:

  • Discounts off TES Institute courses
  • Access over 200,000 articles in the TES online archive
  • Free Tastecard membership worth £79.99
  • Discounts with Zipcar,, Virgin Wines and other partners
Order your low-cost subscription today