Competition for university and post-secondary places means stress is byproduct of system, seminar told Reducing pressure on students and providing language skills necessary to work in an international city are the two biggest challenges in education reform, education specialists told a group of business leaders yesterday. 'Too much pressure is a bad thing. There is, in my opinion, too much exam-related pressure in schools today,' Deputy Secretary for Education and Manpower Chris Wardlaw told a breakfast meeting of business leaders organised by the South China Morning Post. 'There will always be some pressure, but what we have to have is sufficient support for the students. I think at the moment it is out of balance. There is too much pressure.' An assistant professor at the University of Hong Kong's Faculty of Education, Cheung Kwok-wah, said competition for university and post-secondary places meant pressure was virtually a byproduct of the education system, despite the best intentions of the '3+3+4' secondary school reforms that were launched this year. The '3+3+4' reforms refers to three years of junior secondary, three years of senior secondary and four years at university. Hongkong Land chief executive Nicholas Sallnow-Smith called on the government to do more to improve students' language skills at an earlier age to make the education system meet the needs of the economy. 'We are a city, not a country, and we are very unique in the sense that everything we do must reflect on Hong Kong's position in the world,' Mr Sallnow-Smith said. 'To have a population that only speaks the domestic language is a much larger handicap for Hong Kong than it would be for Hungary, for example.' But Mr Wardlaw said language-teaching had been strengthened in early childhood education, and government data clearly showed students' English abilities had improved in recent years. 'Whatever we can show in terms of improvements, community aspirations of Hong Kong society, in culture and commerce ... rapidly outgrows [it],' he said. English Schools Foundation chief executive Heather du Quesnay said providing students with an 'adequate level' of Putonghua was a 'huge challenge' to the group of English-medium schools. Yesterday's briefing focused on the results of the SCMP/TNS Opinion Leaders' Survey on education, published earlier this month, which gave a damning assessment of the government's performance in implementing education reforms. Close to 700 opinion leaders and business decision-makers surveyed gave the government an average of just 4.3 points out of a possible 10, and placed local schools behind English Schools Foundation and international schools in all areas except Putonghua. Nearly two-thirds said there was too much pressure at the secondary level, and more than 40 per cent said the same for primary schools. More than half said pressure had increased at primary, secondary and pre-school levels over the past five years.