The Hong Kong students who can toast good marks in Diploma of Secondary Education exams, despite huge hurdles
Pupils with disabilities look forward to the next stage of their educations after getting what they needed on the university entrance exam, while a 19-year-old prisoner bags the best ever results for a female inmate
John Wong Chun-on recalls “suffering” when he took the Diploma of Secondary Education exam in April this year.
The 18-year-old, whose Duchenne muscular dystrophy causes his muscles to degenerate and who uses a wheelchair, spent “six to seven hours for two subjects in one day”, having been given extra time to complete his papers.
On Wednesday, he was overjoyed to learn he qualified for one of 15,000 places at Hong Kong public universities. On the exam’s seven-point grading scale – 1 being the lowest, 5** being the highest – he scored a 4 in Chinese, liberal studies and biology, 3 in both English and information and communication technology, and 2 for maths.
People with the disorder Wong has are only expected to live into their mid-30s, though some have lived for longer. But Wong, who attended Hong Kong Christian Service Pui Oi School, in Tuen Mun, said that did not stop him wanting to pursue a bachelor’s degree in social work.
“[People like us] have needed constant help from others. And I’ve always wondered, could I use my abilities to contribute to society or pay back the help I got from others?” he said.
Of the 57,649 pupils who sat this year’s DSE exam, more than 2,600 were special needs youngsters like Wong, many of whom overcame a variety of challenges to complete the secondary school leaving exam to move on to higher education.
Among them, 17 got a 5** for two subjects or more.
One top scorer was Eli Tang Lai-ming, 18, who is partially blind and an albino. The student, from CCC Ming Kei College, in Tai Kok Tsui, got top marks for Chinese and economics. For the latter paper, and maths, she had to use a magnifying glass to see charts properly.
Tang said she was aiming for a place at the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology to study quantitative finance, so she could work for social enterprises that develop technology for disabled people.
“A lot of so-called obstacles, including my disability, can be perceived as challenges to get to a higher stage,” Tang said. “I hope all the special education needs students can realise that we may be different to other students, but every single individual is unique in his or her own way.”
Alison Fung Hiu-yan, 22, another wheelchair user, one who suffers from a condition causing excess fluid in her brain, passed four subjects and will move on to a foundational diploma in information technology. She said her goal was to help people and animals in need.
“Not only can technology change my life, but also everyone’s in the world,” said the student of Hong Kong Red Cross Princess Alexandra School, in Lam Tin.
“For example, people who have difficulties in mobility can benefit from smart homes. They can switch off a light with a voice command.”
“I feel so worried when I read news about pets being abandoned and the closure of Macau’s greyhound racetrack,” she added, referring to the demise of the canidrome, which threw the futures of the dogs there into doubt.
Separately, the city’s Correctional Services Department said 16 youngsters in custody took the DSE this year. Its top performer got the best results ever for a female inmate, with a 4 in four subjects and a 3 in two. The 19-year-old, who could only give her name as Ah Fan, was in Lai King Correctional Institution for drug trafficking and took the DSE for the second time to improve her scores from last year.
She will be released in December next year and aims to do a social work degree at Baptist University.
Ah Fan recalled staying up until 11pm to study alone after other inmates had gone to bed. Sitting the exam, she said, had been a lesson in perseverance.
She added: “In the past, every time I encountered problems or difficulties, I would run away from it. Now I have more confidence in myself.”
Additional reporting by Mandy Zheng, Yoyo Chow, Veta Chan, Alex Lin, Nicola Chan