Hong Kong’s exam obsession must end if we are to bring the best out of all our young people

To become a ‘smart city’ we need to maximise everyone’s different skills, not just those of the 15,000 that enter universities every year

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 18 August, 2016, 6:47pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 18 August, 2016, 10:11pm

There are about 15,000 Diploma of Secondary Education students about to start a new chapter in their lives after being offered a place at government-funded universities. The University of Hong Kong has offered places to 78 per cent of the city’s top exam performers. Twenty outstanding athletes have also been admitted.

At the start of every academic year, there are many new faces on campus who bring the place alive. The new students are bombarded with orientation activities to remind them that university life will be both fun and challenging. Occasionally, the challenges prove too much for a few. New friends, a different learning environment and life in halls of residence are big adjustments for first-year students. All students and staff must work hard to make the transition a smooth one.

Some 68,128 students took the DSE exams and 24,611 students met the minimum requirements for admission to a university degree course. The universities can only take in 15,000 young people and some inevitably find themselves disappointed. The government has therefore worked to improve and expand vocational and professional educational opportunities for these youngsters by providing more than 18,000 places on 140 programmes covering degrees, higher diplomas, diplomas of foundation studies and diplomas of vocational education from the Vocational Training Council. Hopefully these serve as alternative choices to help young people acquire the skills and knowledge they will need for future career development.

In Hong Kong, academic achievement often seems to be the only way to success. Students are often defined by how well they perform in the DSE exams. This has added lots of unnecessary pressure, making many feel they are being “controlled” or “trapped” by the education system. The majority of parents spend considerable resources enrolling their children in numerous tutorial classes while sometimes overlooking their mental and physical well-being. Teachers in secondary schools overtly stress methods to achieve good grades, and forget how crucial it is to assist and educate students in developing their interests and skills, and in how to live a fulfilling life.

It is time to rethink and re-evaluate our education system. Somehow, the whole of society has become lost in defining what matters most in life, and this has particularly hit hard those less academically gifted.

The government should set up a youth development fund to offer each DSE school leaver a sum of money, for example HK$10,000, up to the age of 25 to help them nurture their unique capabilities. The cost would not be small but it would be a good financial investment in the future generations of our society. The Singaporean government has committed S$1 billion a year (HK$5.8 billion) to fund continuing education and training for all Singaporeans and provide opportunities to develop their potential.

Employers also have a role to play, and should offer more promising career opportunities for our young generation for whom university is not the right path.

Academic qualifications are not the only way to succeed in life. We must place less emphasis on DSE results and pay more attention to what our young are capable of. To become a “smart city” we need to have more smart people maximising everyone’s different skills. Once young people are provided with the environment and opportunities to grow and excel, they will no doubt surprise all of us.

Paul Yip is a professor of social work and social administration at the University of Hong Kong