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Educationalists seek reform

By James Chen & Eva Ling

Photos by James Chen & Eva Ling

Clockwise from top left: Dr. Tse Wing Ling, City University of Hong Kong;
Mr. Cheung Kwong Yuen, the Examination Authority; Prof. Chun Wing Kwong and Prof. Daniel Shek, The Chinese University of Hong Kon

Every year over 20,000 students score “zero” in the Hong Kong Certificate of Education Examination (HKCEE).

Dr. Tse Wing Ling is an associate professor in the Department of Applied Social Studies at the City University of Hong Kong.

Dr. Tse said students who have failed examinations are regarded as “losers”.

“The public holds a very high standard; they like to use absolute criteria to measure a person’s success,” said he.

“Also, they tend to focus on academic qualifications only.”

Prof. Daniel Shek is a professor in the Department of Social Work at The Chinese University of Hong Kong.

He is also a member of the government’s Youth Commission.

Apart from suicides, Prof. Shek said that examination failure leads to other teenage problems.

“Most teenage drug addicts are school dropouts,” he said.

Most juvenile delinquents have poor performance in schools.

“As they fail academically, they want to gain some sense of achievement in other ways,” said Prof. Shek.

Academic failures lead to low self-esteem and even stuctural problems in Hong Kong society.

Prof. Shek said, “Nowadays, academic qualifications affect wage levels.”

A high unemployment rate is another consequence of the examination system.

Prof. Shek said that youth unemployment will be a major issue in the coming 10 years.

Students who cannot further their studies mostly decide to join the labour force.

However, getting a job is never easy for them.

A stagnant economy and low academic qualifications are main reasons for their unemployment.

Dr. Chung Yue-Ping is  the dean of the Facult  of Education at The Chinese University of Hong Kong.

Said Dr. Chung: “The whole education system is exam-oriented rather than curriculum and learning-oriented.

“Even the cultural and value systems of the whole public have been distorted. The focus is on examinations.”

Said Prof. Shek: “Assessments spread over the forms of take-home assignments, projects and quizzes instead of one-off exams produce less harmful effects on students.”

    Both Dr. Chung and Prof. Shek prefer the Scholastic Aptitude Test in the U.S.

In response to undesirable results brought on by the education system, some other scholars have different opinions.

Mr. Cheung Kwong Yuen is the head of Subjects Division at the Hong Kong Examination Authority.

“The examination tests basic abilities such as analysing and organising information from different sources.

“If someone fails the examination, it just means that he or she is under the standard level,” said Mr. Cheung.

“As an international city, we have more chances to access and study examination systems in different countries and the mainland.”

Hong Kong is a member of the International Association for Educational Assessment.

The association holds a meeting every year to improve the education systems in  their member countries.

Hong Kong will be the host for the 2002  meeting.

“We also asked British experts on examinations to assist us on the content of examinations. Examination questions will be sent to them,” said Mr. Cheung.

“According to the policy of the Education and Manpower Bureau, we will add a new idea called Primary Knowledge Elements of Courses to the system of examinations for the HKCEE.”

According to Mr. Cheung, during the examination, a certain percent of the content will be based on  the primary knowledge elements.

He said this would give students a clear idea of the content of the courses.

But some of the reforms are not welcomed by experts, like the merger of the HKCEE and the Hong Kong Advanced Level Examination.

According to Prof. Chun Wing Kwong of Department of Education at The Chinese Univeristy of Hong Kong, the function of the Advanced Level Examination is to pick out those suitable for tertiary education while the function of the HKCEE is to qualify for the labour force.

“The characteristics and functions of these two examinations are different, so they should not be merged together,” he said.

Chief Executive Tung Chee-hwa called for more tertiary places. But this has been criticised by experts, too.

“As mentioned by the chief executive,  if another 60 percent gain access to university education, there must be at least twice as many students in Form 6 as we assume that every one can enter the university,” said Prof. Chun.

Dr. Tse of City University said that the government is too eager to engage in educational reform.

“These reforms are not being weighed thoroughly,” said Dr. Tse.

He said the government should provide more reentry paths like community colleges.

“Students should be given chances to develop talents other than academic ones,” he said.

Comparison of university admission procedures in different countries

Average academic performance and provincial examinations are generally taken into account. Some universities like the McGill University in Montreal also look at students’ extra-curricular activities and recommendation letters.  

Hong Kong
Generally, HKALE and HKCEE results are considered. Some faculties require interviews of students.

Each university has its own system of student selection. In general, students’ Advanced Level and  O-level results, extra-curricular activities, and average academic performance are taken into account. Some faculties require interviews.

United Kingdom
Students hand in their own packages of data to the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service. The packages include average academic results, Advanced Level and O-Level results, extra-curricular activities, recommendation letters and work experience. Some universities require interviews.

United States
Each university has a different system. Students generally are assessed on the basis of Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT) results, average academic performance, teachers’ recommendation letters, extra-curricular activities and work experience. Interviews may be necessary.

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