New education system puts us on world stage

PUBLISHED : Monday, 06 August, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 06 August, 2007, 12:00am

Change does not come easily to conservative societies such as Hong Kong's. In a globalised world, though, a new approach to the way we interact with those beyond our borders is essential for our city's continued growth. Education is a central pillar of such evolution and authorities have recognised this, putting in place reforms that reshape the way students learn and are taught. There is bound to be confusion as the changes are implemented, so officials have to do their utmost to explain to all involved the process and its benefits.

The fruits of the first of these shake-ups will become apparent on Wednesday when secondary school students from Form Five receive their Chinese and English-language Hong Kong Certificate of Education Examination results. Not only was the manner of teaching and testing altered, but the method of assessment and awarding marks. For students eager to know how well they did, the most tangible difference will be a 1 to 5* rating rather than A to E. There will most likely be many a furrowed brow as it is learned that there are no passes or failures, although a 1 reflects the poorest result while 5 will go to those eligible for university courses that attract the highest achievers.

Assessment was previously determined according to the performance of all students in Form Five. This let students know how well they did among their peers, but did not provide a reference point to show the level of achievement compared with those in previous years.

Hong Kong's status as an international financial centre and as China's business window to the world makes it important that high standards of written and spoken Chinese and English are maintained. Employers have complained that such levels have been falling in recent years, but without a standardised method of assessment, such an observation cannot be proven.

The new assessment method, in line with international standards, changes this. While it will not be possible to compare students who receive their results this week with those from previous years, a system is at least now in place to provide such a gauge for subsequent Form Five students.

As examinations authority chief Peter Hill points out in our article on the subject today, the aim is to meet demands that Hong Kong students' results are internationally recognised, transparent and explicit, while remaining constant over time. The approach will gradually be geared towards all secondary school subjects. This is a worthy ideal to ensure the best possible teaching methods are employed, and that they are effective.

Theoretically, employers will be assured that the education system is grooming the best possible workforce. Graduating students will also have the flexibility to work overseas because their assessment will be uniform with that in developed countries like Australia, Britain and the US.

Of course, it remains to be seen how effective the new approach will be. The quality of students is as much about teachers as the curriculum. While standards have been raised, a watchful eye has to be kept on having classrooms fronted by qualified people.

These are significant shifts for an education system that has for several decades adhered to the same teaching and assessment principles. Given Hong Kong's need to meet the challenges of globalisation, keeping in line with changes in the rest of the developed world is necessary.

Throughout the reform process, though, all those affected have to be clear about what is happening. Information is as much a part of the process as implementation.