Chinese University scraps exams to boost teaching of classic books

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 26 January, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 26 January, 2011, 12:00am

Exams are out, the Great Books are in.

In a far-reaching overhaul of undergraduate education, Chinese University will scrap exams for most mandatory subjects and boost the teaching of both Western and Chinese classics.

The changes are part of the university's preparation to lengthen degree courses from three years to four years next year.

Details of the overhaul revealed yesterday include a drastic reduction in the number of final exams for mandatory courses in general education, languages, physical education and information technology.

'We will focus on the classics by [authors such as] Adam Smith, Charles Darwin and Karl Marx. We want students to cite classics when thinking about modern problems,' said Leung Mei-yee, director of the university's general education foundation programme.

This differs from liberal studies in secondary schools, she said, which emphasise current affairs and analysis of news stories.

Ho Che-wah, chairman and professor with the department of Chinese language and literature, said fewer exams would allow students to gain more appreciation of Chinese literature.

'In place of exams, there will be continuous assessment in the form of assignments and discussions,' he said.

'Courses on the classics will be related to major [degree] studies. For example, a medical student will have to study medical principles [advocated by ancient Chinese physician] Hua Tuo in The Book of the Later Han.'

Kenneth Young, pro-vice-chancellor of the university, said the change aimed to move students from the habit of studying only for exams.

'There will be an emphasis on the teaching of transferable skills, which will be nurtured through participation in group work and term projects,' he said.

At present, students need 99 credits to graduate. When four-year courses start, students will need a minimum of 123 credits.

The credits for core subjects in the four compulsory areas for all undergraduates will increase from 23 to 39. In languages, there will be an increase of three and six credits for Chinese and English respectively.

For Chinese-language courses, more classics related to students' majors will appear in the curriculum.

Professor Andy Curtis, director of the English Language Teaching Unit, said the nature of English courses would be changed from general to professional. 'There will be English for law, social sciences and engineering,' he said.

The new curriculum would revamp the memorisation and exam-driven learning style common in local schools, he said.

'Students get a bit of a shock [when they enter universities],' he said. 'Teachers tell you what to do in secondary schools, but you have to decide what to do in universities. There will be no exams at the end of term. [In place of them] will be 10 assessed assignments over 14 weeks.'

Curtis said he was worried that students' English proficiency would worsen after secondary education was shortened from seven to six years in 2009.

'We will face challenges to teach students who will have one year less in formal education.'

Jimmy Lee Ho-man, professor in computer science and engineering, said the current compulsory IT test would be scrapped next year. 'We want students to learn through presentations and projects.'