My Take

Science matters, and our children are falling behind

By several measures, students are losing ground to their overseas counterparts and our secondary school curriculum – known as the DSE – is largely to blame

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 24 January, 2017, 12:50am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 24 January, 2017, 12:50am

Our secondary students’ usual stellar scores in PISA may be falling. More of our students are losing interest in STEM. Is DSE to blame? Many teachers and academics seem to think so. Frankly, I am not sure. But as a parent, I am concerned. You should be, too.

I apologise for throwing all these acronyms at you. It’s ironic that while education should encourage clarity of thought and expression, discussions of education policy inevitably involve an alphabet soup.

The Programme for International Student Assessment ranks 15-year-olds from dozens of countries and territories in mathematics, science and reading. Our pupils had usually done well – until last year.

The Diploma of Secondary Education was introduced in 2012 to replace the Certificate of Education Examination. Now, if those critics are right, the DSE curriculum not only fails to attract more students to science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM), it may actually discourage them.

If DSE could do so much damage in five years, we have a major educational crisis on our hands. The matter is, of course, far more complicated. The decline of student participation in STEM is a problem in many developed economies, and they don’t have DSE.

Hong Kong slips to new low in international ranking for student performance in science

Still, there is cause for concern. DSE’s core subjects are English, Chinese, maths and liberal studies. Unlike the old system, critics claim the focus on core subjects over optional modules for more advanced science and maths has led to a weak scientific training for students. Meanwhile, many have complained liberal studies cover too many topics and take up too much time.

In past PISA tests, Hong Kong came in second in science, maths and reading, but last year, we dropped to ninth place in science, behind Vietnam and Macau.

Why haven’t our education officials expressed alarm? Shouldn’t we seriously study whether or not DSE has an adverse impact on STEM education? If so, solutions go far beyond the one-off subsidy of HK$200,000 to each public secondary school to promote STEM in Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying’s latest policy address.

But education officials came up with DSE, so they have every incentive not to question it. Moreover, since the debacle of national education five years ago, they have been obsessed with finding ways to introduce Chinese history as a mandatory subject.

But getting STEM education right is far more urgent and important to the future of Hong Kong.