Some Hong Kong students already plan to resit their university entrance exams – even though they will not take them for the first time until April 24.
With the papers delayed for a month by the coronavirus epidemic sweeping the city, students want to give themselves the best chance of getting into the university of their choice, as educators say many across Hong Kong feel anxious and under pressure.
About 2,000 students who are expected to take the Diploma of Secondary Education (DSE) exams this year have also signed an online petition calling for the cancelled Chinese and English language oral exams to be reinstated, fearing not taking them will hurt their chances of success.
Earlier this month, amid a surge in Covid-19 cases, Hong Kong postponed the DSE exams, which were originally scheduled to begin on March 27, which has affected more than 52,000 candidates. The city’s schools have been closed since the beginning of February.
Mickey Leung, a Form Six student at a Tuen Mun secondary school, said many of her classmates felt unhappy about the decision to postpone the tests.
The 17-year-old had been studying for up to five hours a day, but said it had been difficult to focus at home living with her brother, parents and grandparents.
“My brother, whose university lessons got suspended, always plays video games in the living room … while I also need to use the computer there,” she said.
Leung said she was considering whether she should retake her exams to give herself a better chance to get a place in the social science course she wants to attend, and added some of her classmates had the same thought.
“I was hoping the DSE exams could end sooner, so that I could spend more time to maybe prepare to retake the exam next year,” she said.
“Sometimes I’d wonder, why wasn’t I born a year before, so that I wouldn’t have to endure all of this.”
Meanwhile, some 370 cross-border candidates – Hongkongers living in the mainland Chinese city of Shenzhen who cross the border to attend Hong Kong schools each day – have also been scrambling to return to the city, as the 14-day mandatory quarantine remains in place.
Edson Ly, who lives in Futian in Shenzhen with his parents, both Hong Kong residents, is a Form Six student at Fanling Kau Yan College. He returned to Hong Kong in early February and has been living in a hotel room with his family ever since.
“On the day when they announced the postponement of the DSE … I listened to [John Denver’s] Take Me Home, Country Roads for the whole day,” said Ly. “It’s a torture mentally. I miss my home [in Shenzhen].”
The 17-year-old predicted his family would spend up to HK$50,000 during their hotel stay, as he planned to remain in the city until his DSE exams end in June. He said the cost was “definitely a burden”.
Many cross-border candidates were not as lucky as Ly, and as a result, two head teachers’ associations in Tai Po and North district set up a study camp in Hong Kong to accommodate them.
Veronica Yau Kit-ying, vice-chairman of the North District Secondary School Principals’ Association, said about 80 cross-border candidates began moving into the camp last week after returning to Hong Kong for quarantine.
She expected the students would spend the extra month studying.
Yau, principal of Fanling Kau Yan College, also believed authorities should not be too quick to cancel the exams.
“DSE results do not only affect students’ university entrance chances. When they look for a job in the future, these public exam results would also be considered by their future employers,” she said.
Ng Po-sing, from the student guidance centre Hok Yau Club, said growing uncertainty over the fate of the DSE exams had caused an increase in anxiety for many students, especially after international exams such as the International Baccalaureate and IGCSE had been scrapped.
“Students this year have been staying at home for most of the time while preparing for the exam, and they feel like they’re fighting alone,” he said.
Ng said a lot of students were also concerned about the cancellation of the Chinese and English language oral exams, which they felt could have an unfair impact on their overall grades.
An online petition by Secondary School Students Strike Platform has collected about 2,000 signatures to protest against scrapping the oral exams.
June Kan, 17, a DSE candidate, said many students had already trained for the oral exams weeks before education officials announced its cancellation this month.
“It feels like a waste of time,” she said. “For myself, I was also hoping to achieve more as my speaking performance was the best among all components tested."
“Also, my ideal major at the university is quite difficult to get in. With the cancellation of oral exams, I’m worried it might affect my chances of getting in.”
In response, the Hong Kong Examinations and Assessment Authority said the cancellation of oral exams was based on advice from experts and risk assessments, and it believed the adjustments would not affect the international recognition of DSE exams.