The work ethic

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 11 August, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 11 August, 2007, 12:00am

The media loves turning the spotlight on the high-achievers in the Hong Kong Certificate of Education Examination at this time of year. And, over recent years, a flock of government officials and celebrities has regularly spoken out in public, sharing their past experiences and saying that exams are not everything; students with poor results can still be successful.

I believe these people only mean to encourage the youngsters not to give up. Yet, as people of status and influence in society, they should be careful what they say, because their remarks may mislead students who failed their exams into believing that they can succeed without working hard.

Moreover, in an increasingly globalised and knowledge-based economy, if young people do not continuously learn or acquire new skills, it will be difficult for them to gain a foothold in society at all, never mind achieve great success.

These well-intentioned government officials and celebrities have yet to realise that the good old days are gone. In the 1950s and 1960s, thanks to the post-war stability that provided Hong Kong with numerous economic opportunities, a lot of people achieved great success in business, despite a lack of proper education.

Tycoon Li Ka-shing, media magnate Jimmy Lai Chee-ying and Chief Executive Donald Tsang Yam-kuen, who started from humble beginnings, are all men made by circumstance.

But, given the prevailing conditions in Hong Kong, such legendary figures will emerge only in developing places like mainland China or Vietnam today.

There is no point in conveying misleading messages to the next generation. Our young people have to face reality: the only way to become a useful and successful person is to study hard and equip yourself for life. Students who fail their exams should work harder and try again.

Meanwhile, parents who use every means to help their children secure a university or college place, or to study overseas, are more realistic. However, the adoption of the new system to grade Form Five graduates' proficiency in English and Chinese has created a lot of problems for them.

Due to a lack of communication between the Examinations and Assessment Authority and overseas colleges, many of these institutes find it difficult to assess Hong Kong students' language abilities, and raise questions about the credibility of the language exam results under the new system.

If students want to further their studies in Britain or the United States, for example, they have to sit language exams that are recognised by universities in those countries.

Worse still, Hong Kong students also face keen competition from mainland students, as overseas universities have been anxious to recruit them in recent years, to strengthen their connections with mainland China.

Many mainland students come to Hong Kong to sit the SAT test, to gain access to colleges in the United States, because there is no SAT examination centre on the mainland. Although the test is held each month, there are only eight centres in the city, and the number of seats is limited.

Many students who were busy preparing for the HKCEE, and did not apply in advance to sit the SAT exam, may have to wait a few months before a place is available, or take the test in neighbouring cities. Those whose parents cannot afford to send them overseas to take the test may have to waste a year. Authorities should seriously consider increasing the centres' capacity in October and November.

The way ahead for our young people will only become more difficult. Students obtaining unsatisfactory exam results should seize every opportunity to study abroad or on the mainland. Without sufficient academic qualifications, they will not be hired by the best employers, and will be stuck at the bottom of society.

We should tell our young people to work hard and prepare themselves for future challenges. Political shows do not help.

Albert Cheng King-hon is a directly elected legislator