Allow Hong Kong students maximum flexibility to focus on what they are good at

PUBLISHED : Monday, 08 May, 2017, 5:25pm
UPDATED : Monday, 08 May, 2017, 11:03pm

I read with dismay the letter from Angel Wong (“Students are under far too much pressure”, April 20).

The Secondary Five student speaks about the stress she and her fellow students are under as they prepare for the Diploma of Secondary Education (DSE) examination, including toiling over practice papers, being forced to join many tutorial classes and being turned into a “memorising machine”. It seems high stress levels continue to haunt our senior secondary students although we have one fewer examination under DSE.

Rising social expectation is a factor as we become wealthier. In Hong Kong, widening income and social inequality, shortage of university places and a structural economic slowdown fuel the pressure to succeed, on top of the traditional Confucian thinking that favours academic over vocational training.

Government policies need to adapt to changing social needs. While reducing the stakes for exams calls for long-term social, economic and educational policies, there are short-term measures that could help alleviate DSE stress. The key is to allow students maximum flexibility to focus on what they are good at.

Many broad-based education systems globally provide module flexibility – offering basic and advanced modules in major subjects – to enable students to acquire breadth as well as depth of knowledge, based on their interests and aptitude.

Some systems also allow students flexibility to schedule their examination according to their readiness and a window to retake it.

In Hong Kong, little flexibility is designed into the secondary school curriculum or the examination systems, while our university admission system is rigidly tied to DSE. These cause extreme stress to students.

I agree with Angel’s remarks that the present school system is “killing creativity”. It separates education from learning, which needs to allow students room to develop their interests as well as critical thinking in “a more enjoyable environment”. It is high time that the government took a comprehensive review of our education system, including secondary school education.

Rita Lun, principal investigator of “Science, Technology and Mathematics Education”, the Academy of Sciences of Hong Kong