HKDSE - Hong Kong Diploma of Secondary Education

Lower language standards won’t do Hong Kong students any favours in the real world

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 15 July, 2018, 10:02am
UPDATED : Sunday, 15 July, 2018, 8:22pm

A recent survey found that three out of five school heads favour the idea of lowering language requirements for university admission (“Three in five Hong Kong secondary schools support lowering English and Chinese language requirements for university admission,” July 9).

Understandably, the suggestion would benefit students whose Hong Kong Diploma of Secondary Education Examination results in subjects other than the languages are exemplary, as their failure to score level three in both Chinese and English would no longer serve as a deterrent to entry to degree programmes.

In the short term, this might sound like good news to graduates, parents and secondary schools. Yet, any relaxation of the language requirements could be detrimental to students and the job market in the long run.

Undergraduates with substandard language abilities might struggle to meet the language demands of coping with their academic requirements, regardless of their majors. Across disciplines at university level, students are required to read and write academic prose for assessment purposes. While language courses are in place to help the linguistically less inclined to catch up, some students would pretty much find themselves in a “sink or swim” scenario, putting in extra time, energy and effort into brushing up their language.

There is little doubt that their substandard language proficiency would inhibit their academic performance and render their tertiary education ineffective.

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Prospective employers, who often moan about the poor language skills of university graduates, would not warm to the idea of easing language requirements for university admission. The belief that loosening language requirements would further dumb down the communication skills of graduates is so deep-rooted in recruiters’ minds that they would be reluctant to hire new faces who are ineffective communicators. While some may argue that the difference between a level 2 and 3 in languages is not apparent in workplace communication, the scores could still be reliable indicators of candidates’ linguistic abilities.

Perhaps the best course of action is for universities to accept scores of alternative language assessments deemed equivalent to the HKDSE level 3 standards. For instance, more universities should consider accepting IELTS scores, with the 6-6.5 band roughly identical to level 3 in HKDSE English.

As for Chinese, universities might determine the possibility of accepting GCSE Chinese scores as an alternative way to fulfil the Chinese requirement. Of course, such drastic changes to the university admission exercise would require the consensus of different stakeholders to come up with the best possible policy that could be beneficial to universities, students, employers and society as a whole.

Jason Tang, Tin Shui Wai