Dumping GCSE may boost HK exam

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 23 June, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 23 June, 2012, 12:00am


Controversial plans by the British government to scrap the decades-old General Certificate of Secondary Education may force Hong Kong schools to revise their curriculum.

The GCSE examination has long been regarded as a short cut into top British universities because students usually score better in it than in the Hong Kong equivalent and the universities give the grades equal weight.

But a bright spot for Hong Kong is that the change could lead to greater value being placed on results in the local exam, formerly the Hong Kong Certificate of Education, replaced this year by the Hong Kong Diploma for Secondary Education.

British media reports yesterday quoted Education Minister Michael Gove as saying the government is preparing a consultation paper for a summer release on a proposed reform of the qualification system.

Media reports earlier said that Gove planned to scrap the GCSE exam altogether and replace it with new tests in response to critics' concerns about 'academic inflation'.

This was said to result from increasing competition between providers of the examination that lured schools to sign up for their version by lowering the standards.

In Hong Kong, academic counsellors say it has been easier for a student to achieve a high grade in the GCSE than in the local exam, with brighter students at the English Schools Foundation more or less guaranteed one or two As in the British exam. ESF statistics show that last year, of the 900 ESF students who took over 8,000 GCSE exams, 55 per cent of the candidates were awarded A* or A grades. The equivalent figure in Britain is 23 per cent, the ESF says.

'Academically, the [UK] exams are cheaper indeed,' Samuel Lun, director of counselling service Senate House Education, said.

He said some Hong Kong students considered the GCSE as a short cut as they vied for a place at top universities in Britain because they could achieve a higher score than in the Hong Kong examinations.

Before the examination vanishes, Gove's plan will have to overcome a big hurdle, as Prime Minister David Cameron's deputy and coalition partner, Nick Clegg, who can veto the plan, opposes it.

Schools in Hong Kong say any changes could lead to more schools switching to other global examinations, such as the International Baccalaureate Diploma.

'The [IB] gives access to a whole range of universities across many continents,' an ESF spokeswoman said yesterday, adding that it would study over the next few months the implications of any changes.

Chan Wai-kai, an educator who represents a union formed by Direct Subsidy Schools, said only a small number of DSS schools provided a GCSE curriculum.

An official of Kellett School, a British international school with campuses in Pok Fu Lam, Shau Kei Wan and Kowloon Bay, said an overhaul of the current system would 'not be great news'.

An e-mail to Gove brought no clarification of how jurisdictions outside Britain would be affected.

Hong Kong employers are also watching for possible implications.

Shea Kai-chuen, founding chairman of the Small and Medium Enterprises Association, said GCSE graduates were treated in the past as having the same qualifications as HKCEE graduates. 'But the key point is that nowadays we need to look more at the know-how of the [job] candidates to consider whether they are suitable,' he said.


The percentage of pupils in the UK who fail because they do not achieve five top-level grade passes at GCSE, Michael Gove says