Decade-long education reforms have yet to realise an initial goal of providing an enjoyable learning experience for pupils or make a dent in an entrenched culture of spoon-feeding in classrooms, say education observers.
Ahead of tomorrow's launch of the Hong Kong Diploma of Secondary Education (HKDSE) - a cornerstone of the reforms - they said that while there were now fewer examinations, pupils were still under pressure.
'The direction of the education reform was great. However, there are problems with implementation,' said education campaigner Tso Kai-lok.
The reforms were designed to change learning in a city long criticised for its exam-oriented culture, to reduce the frequency of exams and to introduce more learning experiences outside the classroom to encourage pupils to learn and think on their own.
In a report by the Education Commission to the government in September 2000, commission chairman Antony Leung Kam-chung - later to become financial secretary - said the reforms aimed to promote lifelong learning and all-round development.
'Learning should be enjoyable,' Leung said in the report.
Under the reforms, the HKCEE and A-level exams are replaced by the HKDSE.
Tso, vice-chairman of Education Convergence, a pressure group formed by senior educators, said the change in exam structure had failed to change the culture at schools, where teachers and pupils were still overwhelmed by after-school revision classes ahead of exams.
'First, there is a lack of support measures to develop school-based learning and assessments. Second, the HKDSE curriculum is impractically long,' he said.
Tso suggested cutting the total school hours for the curriculum from 2,700 to about 2,300.
Some 70,000 pupils will converge on about 400 school halls and more than 2,000 classrooms tomorrow to sit for the new examination, which will determine whether pupils can enter government-funded university programmes.
There are about 15,000 subsidised university places. Those who miss out will have to look at other study options, such as more expensive private degree programmes or studying overseas.
Mervyn Cheung Man-ping, Hong Kong Education Policy Concern Organisation chairman, said with a deep-rooted belief among Hong Kong families that getting a degree is the key goal of education, cram schools still thrived despite a more flexible syllabus for subjects such as Chinese language, where less reciting is needed.
Also, the authorities had encouraged pupils to express their own views in liberal studies, which is a compulsory subject.
Cheung said pupils felt they were doomed if they could not pass the HKDSE exam.
'In the past, you still had something in hand if you had done the HKCEE exam. But now it becomes a big problem if you fail the DSE exam, as this is their only chance.'
He said this was particularly true for some less competitive schools where the chance of any pupil getting into university was slim.
'Successful education reforms require a change in perception and school culture. Schools should not stress success and elimination,' he said.
Tso said the government should provide more opportunities for pupils to receive a tertiary education by increasing the number of government-funded university places.