The great divide

The great divide

June 18, 2010
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After the introduction of the NSS, this year the last of the HKCEE candidates are facing extra pressure, writes Lai Ying-kit

There's always stress from public exams, but the pressure on those sitting the last Hong Kong Certificate of Education Examination (HKCEE) this year is even greater.

Students with average grades are especially worried they will have to switch to a new and unfamiliar curriculum if they fail to get a Form Six place.

Even students from elite schools are nervous because competition this year is keener than ever.

'If I fail to get into Form Six, I will need to re-sit the HKCEE next year as a private candidate, and then enter the second year of the NSS syllabus. That means what I studied under the HKCEE will be of no use,' says Karl Lo Kai-chung, 17, from Carmel Secondary School.

Karl's classmate, Yuki Lien Lik-in, says the new curriculum was launched only last year and many have reservations about its effectiveness.

'I don't have much confidence in it yet. Teachers are still exploring how to teach under the new structure so how effective our learning can be is not clear. Recognition of exam results under the NSS curriculum by employers and higher education institutions is also a concern,' she says.

In a survey conducted early last month, 85 per cent of Form Five students said they were under severe stress as they prepared to take the HKCEE this year. More than 70 per cent of the 275 respondents to the poll by the Hong Kong Youth Power Association said they suffered from symptoms such as depression or insomnia.

Under the old system, pupils take the HKCEE after five years of secondary school. Those who do well stay on for two more years to take the A-levels for university admission.

The government launched the new senior secondary curriculum last September. Under this structure, all secondary students will take the Hong Kong Diploma of Secondary Education - which will replace the A-levels - after six years of study.

The old and new systems are operating side by side until 2012. Private candidates who re-sit certain HKCEE subjects next year will either continue their senior secondary education under the new system or pursue other options, such as an associate degree.

But they will face a more winding path. Students complain their options will be limited. They can no longer pursue the A-level curriculum.

'Previous Form Five repeaters continued their A-level studies, but repeaters cannot do that next year. This is not fair,' says Ho Ka-chun.

He says he has a 50-50 chance of fulfilling the minimum HKCEE requirements.

'If we want to stay in secondary school, we can only switch to the new and unfamiliar syllabus. It will be hard to adapt to the senior secondary school curriculum,' the student says.

'This will reduce our chance of getting a university place.'

Even those who make it to Form Six this year will face another fierce battle in two years - the final A-levels.

In 2012, the city will see two batches of secondary school graduates competing for university places - one batch from the old system and one from the new.

Hong Kong's universities are building new facilities to accommodate an expected surge in enrolment, but students are worried and expect keen competition.

'If I were able to choose, I would prefer to be born a year earlier. Then I could avoid the two last public exams,' Yuki says.

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