Let go of unrealistic expectations with new look at exam system

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 19 April, 2016, 4:51pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 19 April, 2016, 4:51pm

To say teaching is to blame for declining English standards of students is to detract from the crux of the issue – our single-minded and unrealistic pursuit of wholesale improvement of all.

The legacy of elitism, pervasive in education, does not necessitate our clinging to a system that produces students branded as losers. If there is any good with our curriculum, it must be that it churns out around 50 per cent of students who do not attain the threshold in the Diploma of Secondary Education (DSE) English exam, also known as level three.

In this self-created predicament, it is perhaps time we let go of unrealistic expectations.

Not all students have the language competence we expect of them nor do they see high English proficiency as a prerequisite to succeed in society.

While some employers lament that language standards of fresh graduates leave much to be desired, not all professions require a very high command of English.

If the need for a banding system of schools tells us that students’ capacities vary, it is unrealistic to have them sit the same exam, only to expect that half will fail.

The so-called differentiation of the reading and listening papers in the current DSE does little to lift them up to the “standard”. This is an ordeal that reeks of undue pressure and alienates them from the enchantment of language learning. The overemphasis on students’ attainment at a particular level is to the detriment of learning but to the advantage of the tutorial business.

It is not that we are not spending enough on education, which is at present the most heavily invested aspect in the government budget, accounting for 17 per cent of total government expenditure. Those asking for an increase in resources are missing the point.

That our curriculum fails the majority of students necessitates a rethink of the direction we are heading in.

I am not suggesting that English should be made an elective subject, but a need-based curriculum premised on targeted improvement can be a more down-to-earth solution that lifts us from the scourge.

A junior secondary curriculum should lay a foundation, and differentiate students according to their needs so that they learn accordingly.

Students at the lower band, according to interests and career predispositions, can choose to take language courses with different functional and vocational emphases. This is how we truly cater for learner diversity.

Borromeo Li Ka-kit, Happy Valley