Failing to get place at university should not be seen as disaster

PUBLISHED : Monday, 11 April, 2016, 4:44pm
UPDATED : Monday, 11 April, 2016, 4:44pm

I agree with your editorial (“Give children back their childhood”, March 29) urging stakeholders to let children enjoy their childhood.

I was saddened but not overly shocked to see the recent spate of suicides among students. Our education system has proved to prompt suicidal behaviour.

What makes me wonder, however, is that Hong Kong has always used public exams to select students for higher education, and the percentage of university students has increased from 2.5 per cent 30 years ago to almost 20 per cent now, so it is easier for students to receive tertiary education. Why then are students more prone to taking their lives than before?

To me, the crux of the problem is that young people feel that they have fewer options than before, and the pressure to succeed in exams is therefore much higher. Paradoxically, the increase in university places has not offered more but fewer opportunities for the young generation, as the definition of and path to success has become narrower.

It sounds ridiculous when Hong Kong has full employment and some industries like construction are acutely short of workers while our young people feel that their future is doomed if they fail to get a place at university. Before the introduction of 12 years of free education, some Secondary Three school leavers would be happy to learn a trade in a vocational school. Now all youths with talent would be stuck in the same grammar schools, drilling for the gruesome Hong Kong Diploma of Secondary Education exams.

They would choose to retake the exams or pay hefty tuition fees for a self-financing course that would only render them heavily in debt rather than guarantee them with a well-paid job upon graduation.

Thirty years ago, 95 per cent of the secondary school leavers would see it as the norm if they failed to get into university. Many would be happy to find work that suited their abilities and interests. Now, failing to get a place at university seems to be the end of the world for almost all students.

Worse still, many would forego their interest and choose a profession for which they don’t really have any passion. That obviously poses serious mental problems for these young people.

Parents should stop tormenting their children who aren’t cut out for achieving top grades in grammar school. There are many other ways to live a happy life and be successful in what we do.

Clive Chan, headmaster, E-Smart Learning Centre