DSE exams present a hopeless struggle for many Hong Kong students and teachers

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 06 April, 2017, 4:58pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 06 April, 2017, 10:13pm

It is more than tragic to hear about students in Hong Kong taking their own lives. More than 70 youngsters have committed suicide since 2013, three of them within eight days in February this year.

While the report from the Committee on Prevention of Student Suicides last November ruled out the education system as a direct cause, what cannot be denied is that there is not only pressure but a prevalent sense of failure and frustration among students since the implementation of the Hong Kong Diploma of Secondary Education (“Stress levels of Hong Kong DSE takers reach three-year high”, April 2).

This public examination requires all local students to face demanding assessments determining university admission. It not only poses pressure for high and average achievers but also creates a pool of losers among low achievers. Being forced to face an exam that is above their ability, mediocre and poor students either barely catch up or simply give up.

Unlike the Hong Kong Certificate of Education Examination (CEE), which was comparatively more manageable for the majority of candidates, the DSE is highly frustrating.

In the past, less able students could still find their feet with various post-secondary programmes available. They do not aim to enter university anyway, so why should they waste a year and be forced to sit an exam with unachievable goals?

Even high achievers get no room to develop resilience. With little experience of setbacks before, they cannot handle failures once they face them at the tertiary level. This exam, in various core and elective subjects, simply does not allow room for failure or a second chance. In the past, more students would retake the CEE, studying the two-year syllabus again. Now, they seldom retake the DSE as the three-year syllabus is just too daunting.

The sense of frustration and failure over the compulsory three-year curriculum extends to teachers as well. They find it hard to motivate average to low achievers to attempt a demanding curriculum and public exam. It is more than a heavy workload; it’s a hopeless struggle to reach a goal set too high.

When both students and teachers are upset and tortured by the system, an effective and happy learning environment can hardly be achieved.

If the city’s education system does not change, I cannot see any hope for our students. Chief executive-elect Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor has pledged to abolish the much-criticised Territory-wide System Assessment for schoolchildren.

I do hope the new government, due to take office in July and headed by Lam, will enforce concrete, constructive measures to help local students at all levels.

Helen Lo, Sham Shui Po