Should My Primary School Child Take Up Higher Chinese (HCL)?

higher chinese HCL

If your Primary 4 child comes home one day and says – “My teacher asked me if I want to take up HCL”. What exactly is Higher Chinese (HCL) in primary school and how should you react?

First and foremost, with the assumption that your child is being invited to take up HCL, you can definitely feel happy!

Likely, your child’s mother tongue learning journey has progressed well, scoring at least 70 marks and must have done relatively well in other subjects too!

But taking up HCL is equivalent to coping with a 5th subject – which means a heavier commitment. So how does this impact the child’s eventual PSLE preparation? Would it help in secondary school admission? And what will they learn?

Here’s a few pointers to help you make an informed decision!

higher chinese HCL

How hard is it to score for HCL?

Most primary school students study Normal Level Chinese (普通华文 aka 普华), and Higher Chinese is the advanced level of Chinese (高级华文 aka 高华). HCL students have to learn between 20-30% more vocabulary per chapter than Normal Level Chinese.

In the exams, students are tested differently on Paper 1 (composition writing). Rather than pictures guided compositions, HCL students choose between a topical essay (命题作文) or complete-the-paragraph format (完成文章). This calls for higher level writing skills.

For Paper 2, the vocabulary sections test students on their mastery of the higher level vocabulary, questions can get tricky and demands a high recall rate.

Comprehension passages are also tougher, with no MCQs. Higher order thinking questions are tested, for example, students need to summarise a paragraph with 10-12 words, and are required to make inferences to answer open-ended questions.

However, there are no oral or listening comprehension components for HCL.

As for grading, HCL comes only with 4 grades:
Unclassified (<50)
Pass (50-64)
Merit (65-79)
Distinction ( ≥80)

Is it difficult to study for HCL?

Most of the primary schools will conduct three additional classes on top of the normal curriculum time. Additional composition writings are expected from students – to tackle the new format especially.

Students are also likely to be tested on more spelling words, more vocabulary tests and more comprehension practices.

For sure, there will be more effort required. But to a student who is already interested in Chinese language, the extra lessons probably won’t be a hassle, as their learning will broaden with more Chinese culture exposure and their language skills deepen.

Can my child drop out of HCL?

If you have made it this far into this article, likely you feel that your child is capable and raring to take up this challenge!

So, if your child is already in a SAP (Special Assistance Plan) primary school – he/she is likely to be taking HCL from as early as primary 1!

But even so, at certain point, if your child doesn’t feel up to the challenge and like to focus time and efforts on other subjects, he/she can still opt out of HCL in Primary 5. So yes, opting out is definitely an option!

On the other hand, in non-SAP primary schools, if your child is doing well for all subjects including Chinese, he/she will likely be invited to join HCL by Primary 4 and this is where you will have to make the decision. But again, dropping out is still an option at the end of Primary 5 if your child feels like doing so.

What can taking up HCL in primary school do for my child?

The big question in your mind – after all the hard work invested, if my child manages to score a Merit or maybe even a Distinction for HCL, what does it mean?

Good news is, if your child’s aspiration is to enter a reputable SAP secondary school, *drums roll* your child’s HCL grade will help!

When your child is up against another candidate with the same AL score, i.e. both candidates have the same AL score of 12 for four subjects (English, Normal Chinese, Math and Science), the next factor to be taken into consideration is how well your child does in HCL!

And if the other candidate doesn’t take HCL, guess what? You’re already miles ahead! And if your child scores a Distinction for HCL, then that will surely put your child in a good position to enter the IP (Integrated Programme) track.

That said, if your child has no intentions to enter a SAP school… then taking up HCL becomes more of a personal journey to master and appreciate Chinese at an advanced level.

So…to take HCL or not to take?

primary school HCL Chinese

If your child is able to cope with HCL at younger years, encourage your child to take up the challenge! This will surely help build a stronger foundation in the language.

And there are some practical benefits in the long run too.

Firstly, with a Merit score at primary level, your child has the option to take up HCL in secondary level. The child’s deeper learning in the Chinese language continues.

Secondly, if your child is considering the Junior College (JC) path, students who pass HCL at O-Levels enjoy a two-point deduction from their aggregate scores, giving them an edge to enter a choice JC.

Thirdly, HCL secondary students enjoy an added perk – with a pass in HCL at the O Levels, they’ll be exempted from taking H1 Chinese as an A Level subject, allowing them to lighten their work load in their JC years. 

But more importantly, we should uphold the reasons why HCL is offered. The purpose is to help our students become effectively bilingual, language wise and culturally. Taking up HCL means more contact time with Chinese language and it will raise your child’s Chinese proficiency level.

However, with all said, if your child is already struggling with Chinese or doesn’t vibe well with this language (even though he/she maybe doing quite alright in Chinese), there’s no need to force it upon your child.

There’re plenty of opportunities to revisit taking up HCL in secondary school, and hopefully, by then your child will be mentally and emotionally ready to enjoy the advanced level of Chinese!

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