The number of students enrolling for the first public university entrance exam under the new education system has fallen short of expectations, with thousands dropping out.
A shortfall on previous estimates of around 5,000 students came as concerns were raised by parents and students who are unfamiliar with the new exams' marking standards and fears that qualifications under the new exam will not be as widely recognised overseas as previously.
A social worker who provides counselling services to students said that, in view of the situation, the government should provide other study pathways for those choosing not to take the exam next year. But officials played down the phenomenon.
However, Stephen Hui Chin-yim, chairman of the Hong Kong Examinations and Assessment Authority's public examinations board, said enrolment for the new Hong Kong Diploma of Secondary Education (HKDSE) exams was 'within expectation'.
Hui said not much can be concluded from this year's enrolment figures, which could not be compared with the drop-out rates under the old system, which offered two public exams - the Hong Kong Certificate of Education Examination and Hong Kong A-levels examination.
But Hui admitted certain students may not be confident enough to take the new exams and that there are also those who may choose to study overseas instead.
The remarks came after figures compiled by the authority showed that 71,800 people signed up for the HKDSE exams, 5,000 short of what officials had estimated a few months ago, based on the number of senior secondary school pupils.
Schools counsellor Choy Ho-lun, of the Hok Yau Club, said that the government should provide these students with other options. 'The phenomenon is less serious than when you have A-levels. People don't normally quit when they are Form 6.
'But this year, more than 70,000 people are taking the exam. There will be some who think they don't want to waste another year to compete in something that will not succeed,' Choy said.
Tong Chong-Sze, the Hong Kong Examinations and Assessment Authority's secretary general, said that when a study was done on Form 4 pupils, the number who choose not to continue to Form 5 was found to be consistently 3,000 each year.
The old Hong Kong Certificate of Education Examination and the Hong Kong Advanced Levels examinations will be merged into the HKDSE exam as the entry test for students who want to go to universities.
To help students familiarise themselves with the new examination system, the HKEAA will make mock papers available to all schools next month, Tong said.
Around 20 schools have also been invited to join a research project under which the performance of their pupils will be used to adjust the year's marking schemes. But Tong said the level of difficulty would not be adjusted regardless of how well they performed. He also said that these pupils would not receive privileges for taking part in the trial run, such as knowing whether they were likely to pass. The exams are held in March.
The HKEAA estimates that about 5,800 markers will be required for the HKDSE as well as the A-levels exams, held for the last time next year.
The number of candidates initially expected by education authorities to write the combined HKDSE, HKEAA and A-level examinations