The results of the Certificate of Education Examination are due to be announced on Wednesday, when 127,600 candidates will learn how they have scored in the exam.
If last year's results are any guide, about 45,000 will have achieved the minimum qualifications to advance to Form Six. However, only 24,300 will actually be promoted under the policy of capping provision of Form Six places to one-third of the number of Form Five students.
The government has rejected pleas to increase the number of such places, preferring to encourage students to seek other outlets, such as enrolling in associate degree programmes and courses run by technical institutes.
With universities dissatisfied with the quality of most of their intake, education officials are understandably reluctant to increase Form Six places. What is worrying is that because of deep-seated preference for a grammar school and university education, many students prefer to repeat Form Five and take the certificate exam again in order to get into Form Six, instead of opting for other routes. It does not help that the tuition fees of associate degree programmes and technical institute courses are higher.
This year, more than 40 per cent of the certificate exam's candidature are not day-school candidates, meaning they are mostly private or evening school candidates taking the exam for the second or even third time. This is clearly undesirable.
Chief Executive Tung Chee-hwa has envisioned providing tertiary education opportunities for 60 per cent of young people. Even providing for the setting up of community colleges providing associate degree programmes, a modest increase of Form Six places would seem necessary.
Competition for the scarce number of such places may encourage students to work harder. But that may not necessarily be the best way of preparing them for university or the workplace. The key to producing good students should lie in encouraging a more lively approach towards learning, not inducing a rat race.