Public exam officials have criticised the ability of secondary school pupils to think critically and express themselves adequately.
In the latest report on the Hong Kong Certificate of Education Examination - which was held for the last time this year - and Hong Kong A-levels, among the words frequently used by examiners are 'narrow-mindedness', 'immaturity' and 'bad grammar'.
In one comment on the HKCEE Chinese writing exam, an examiner wrote: 'Candidates' observations [are] weak and they are narrow-minded and immature.'
In another criticism, referring to the general student performance in the AS (Advanced Subsidiary) level use of English exam, the examiner says fewer than 5 per cent of candidates could write highly accurately. The examiner says the problem affected the 'vast majority of candidates' and is one that should be 'urgently' addressed.
Chow Ping-yan, chairman of the policy watchdog Education Convergence, agreed students' inability to demonstrate basic academic skills was a major systemic problem. 'It may be the ability of students, but it may also be that there is a problem with the schools,' he said.
Chow also pointed out that most of the 20,000 candidates who took this year's HKCEE exam were repeaters aiming to better their mark and who studied on their own.
A spokeswoman for the Hong Kong Examinations and Assessment Authority said this meant their performance should not be directly compared with past results.
In a comment on students who took HKCEE mathematics, examiners urge them to revise fundamental concepts such as percentages.
The HKCEE and A-level exams have been replaced by the Hong Kong Diploma of Secondary Education, which will be held for the first time next year.
Meanwhile, examiners say Form Seven students who took public affairs and liberal studies exams this year failed to understand mainland political theory. For example, they say the students did not show enough knowledge of the 'Three Represents' put forward by former president Jiang Zemin . Chow agreed mainland politics could be included in the subject but said students needed a better understanding of what would be tested.
Liberal studies is now a compulsory subject and will be tested for the first time at the end of this academic year.
The Three Represents was part of official state propaganda during the Jiang Zemin era. The theory stated that the Communist Party should lead the mainland by representing the broad majority of the public as well as representing advanced culture and productivity.
The number of subjects that were offered in the HKCEE
- It started in 1974 to test five years of secondary education