Time to take secondary education in Hong Kong into the digital age

Simon Wang says computerising the DSE exam will encourage teachers and students to embrace e-learning, which will better prepare them for a world now shaped by technology

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 06 July, 2016, 12:27pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 06 July, 2016, 7:32pm

With the advent of artificial intelligence and the increasing popularity of e-learning, it is time to consider computerising the Diploma of Secondary Education (DSE) exam in Hong Kong. Using computers to design, deliver and mark the tests can improve the efficiency of the exam administration, making it possible to offer the exams more than once a year. It may also catalyse the adoption of e-learning in our secondary schools and help students develop information literacy that is vital for the knowledge economy.

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Computerised exams would save manpower and resources. With secure cloud computing, test candidates could bring their own tablets or laptops to the exam centres and connect to their servers to take the exams. Invigilators could monitor candidates’ activities in real time. With more efficient administration, the exams could be made available twice a year, reducing the pressure on candidates to perform well in a single attempt. In fact, the past decade has seen computerisation of high-stake tests such as the Toefl English-language test and the GRE, for admission to graduate schools in the US.

Computers can also be used to assess candidates’ performance more accurately. For more than 10 years, the Educational Testing Service in the US has been using a computer program known as the e-rater to assess the quality of essays written for GRE and Toefl. The Examinations and Assessment Authority could develop a similar system to improve the validity of the DSE results.

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When I was a college freshman 18 years ago, Matlab, software for mathematical computing, was introduced as a new feature. Today it would be hard to imagine doing college-level maths without it. Likewise, computer modelling has become an indispensable part of studying the so-called STEM (science, technology, engineering and maths) subjects. Even in the humanities and social sciences, computer tools have been used for statistical and textual analyses. Armed with an author attribution software, for example, researchers discovered that J.K. Rowling was the author of the detective novel The Cuckoo’s Calling under the pen name Robert Galbraith.

In sharp contrast to the computerisation of knowledge at the university level, secondary school teachers and students in Hong Kong still rely mostly on pen and paper, which severely limits the range of skills and knowledge that can be acquired.

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Computerising the DSE exam would motivate a complete overhaul of the curriculum for both science and humanity subjects to reflect the latest developments. Teachers and parents would have more incentives to adopt e-learning if public exams were delivered electronically. Students may also find the e-learning experience more relevant to their future university learning and workplace communication.

The development of computing technologies has fundamentally changed the modern economy and threatens countless low-skilled and white-collar jobs in the coming decades. A new economy, dominated by intelligent computing devices and robots, will require a set of information literacy skills that the current school curriculum and paper-based DSE exam are unable to cultivate.

The move would not be smooth sailing but, given its huge potential for reducing exam pressure and creating new learning opportunities, it deserves serious consideration from all teachers, parents and officials who care about the future of our children.

Simon Wang is a doctoral candidate at the Department of English, City University of Hong Kong. He holds a master’s degree in comparative education from Oxford