Change in school places allocation defended

PUBLISHED : Friday, 04 February, 2005, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 04 February, 2005, 12:00am

An author of ideas for reform doubts they will foster rote learning, but says if they do, that may not be a bad thing

One of the architects of a proposed new system for allocating secondary school places said yesterday he did not believe it would increase the tendency for primary schools to drill their students to ensure good ratings.

But even if it did, that would not necessarily be bad because it could increase competency in three key subjects, said Michael Tien Puk-sun.

Mr Tien, chairman of an Education Commission working group which proposed the system, was speaking after it was introduced for public consultation.

Under a new mechanism for moderating the academic performance of Primary Six students, the students would have their results scaled according to the results of the pre-Secondary One attainment test sat by the previous year's students.

The attainment test determines which secondary school classes Primary Six students will attend.

The working group also proposed sampling schools' results once every other year, and maintaining the system of dividing students into three bands. The mechanism would be implemented in 2007.

Mr Tien said the working group's long-term goal was to abandon scaling, but this was not yet possible.

He insisted the new system would only minimally affect schools' drilling of students.

'Drilling is not necessarily evil. Even if the attainment test brings about drilling, schools will only drill on students' competencies in Chinese, English and mathematics, which are the fundamental goals of the nine-year compulsory education,' he said.

Mr Tien told the South China Morning Post that the reason for using the previous year's test results was to reduce the tendency for schools to drill their students.

The consultation paper also leaves open the possibility of keeping the present system.

Primary Six students are now allocated secondary places based on their school examination results, adjusted according to their school's average performance in the Academic Aptitude Test between 1997 and 2000.

That much-criticised test was abolished in 2000.

Tang Chan Wai-ling, principal of Clementi Secondary School, supports the new scaling proposal.

'It is reasonable and acceptable. It makes reference to a school's latest performance, not that from the past, as under the current system,' she said.

But Lam Seung-wan, chairman of the Education Policy Concern Organisation, called the two options equally ridiculous.

'Anyone who suggests keeping the current interim arrangement must be an idiot because the data on students' abilities are seriously outdated,' said Mr Lam.

'On the other hand, I don't think the attainment test will accurately reflect students' abilities. Students won't take the test seriously because it won't affect which secondary school they go to.'

Other proposals by the working group include raising the percentage of students allocated through discretionary places - as opposed to central allocation - from 20 per cent to 30 per cent.

Students can also choose two instead of one school in discretionary allocation. For central allocation, 10 per cent of the places available at each secondary school will be open to all students.

The proposed reforms

1 Scaling of Primary Six pupils' internal assessment results through pre-Secondary One attainment test

2 Discretionary places:

Quota at each school raised from 20 per cent to 30 per cent

Students to be able to apply to two schools, instead of one

3 Centrally allocated places:

Three-band system maintained

Ten per cent of places in each school not restricted by school catchment areas