Students take leap into the unknown
Kate Tsoi, a high school leaver who will learn of her scores in the Hong Kong Diploma of Secondary Education exams today, says: 'There are no past papers, no past grades and almost nothing to refer to.'
Tsoi is a Form Six pupil at the elite direct-subsidy Diocesan Girls' School and feels pressure as part of the guinea-pig class sitting for the diploma. 'Especially when there is also the new liberal studies subject, it is hard for anyone to feel secure.'
Obtaining a spot at a local university will also prove to be more difficult for diploma candidates, with 73,074 students vying for just 15,000 places.
The new diploma has replaced the A-levels as the gateway to university and is part of the government's education overhaul. This year, about 41,000 candidates sat the A-levels for the last time.
Tsoi, despite consistent high-scores at her school, sought a 'back-up plan' by also sitting the British GCE A-level exams. With those results, she has already received offers from British universities, including an opportunity to read economics at University College London.
Tsoi is not alone in feeling insecure about her prospects. The Hok Yau Club, a student counselling service, said it had received 1,170 calls for advice as of yesterday - 82 per cent more than the service has received in the past two years.
Cecilia Ng Kam-kuen, who heads the Hong Kong Federation of Youth Groups' counselling service, said: 'Some pupils have told us that employers may not understand what level graduates who have sat the HKDSE have reached.'
Ng said this was because the new qualification was supposed to be more difficult than the now-defunct Hong Kong Certificate of Education Examination that was taken in Form Five, but easier than the Hong Kong A-level examination - offered for the last time this year - taken in Form Seven.
'Some employers may even think it is better to hire graduates who sat the A-levels because they were in secondary school for one more year.'
An Education Bureau spokeswoman said these were not viable concerns. 'Since 2009, the government has hosted almost 50 seminars to educate employers from different sectors on the new qualification - with the purpose of deepening knowledge of the diploma,' she said.
Ng said although it may seem that it was more competitive this year for HKDSE graduates to get into a local government-funded university place, this was not the case. She said the HKCEE exam in the past would have filtered out students who did not continue to study for A-levels. 'The number of pupils who are vying for a university place is therefore still the same.'
While there are only 15,000 university places, there is a variety of options for candidates who sat the diploma or A-levels this year.