Hong Kong students can take either the DSEs, or other exams, like the International Baccalaureate (IB) at international schools. But many ethnic minority students can't speak the language, so are not able to study the local curriculum, and cannot afford huge international school fees. So what's the alternative?
Perhaps Amod Rai can answer this. A campaigner for minority rights, Rai works to offer international qualifications to minority students.
Taking courses provided by Dwight School, in New York, and Dwight School London, the students can access two-year IB online courses at a lower cost of US$5,000 a year.
"This is a good opportunity for minority students to experience global classrooms, with high-quality programmes and experienced foreign teachers," Rai says.
"Many minority students are not able to access a global higher education curriculum, which is mostly offered in expensive international schools," he says.
"The Chinese-based curriculum is not suitable because it fails to cater to their interests, and give them language support.
"Most of them then drop out of secondary school when they feel they have no other choices."
As a result, Rai wrote to Dwight School, expressing the frustration and difficulties he'd seen that many local minority students experience.
He became hopeful when he was assigned as site base coordinator for the online IB courses.
"The online courses address minorities' needs, helping them make better education or career choices. I hope they'll have better opportunities than their parents."
Rai hopes that the courses will give the students the opportunity to become confident, resourceful global citizens.
"Their potential is neglected in local schools, which focus on exams," he says.
"Project-based IB online courses help students learn self-exploration, as well as critical and creative thinking skills through experiments and assignments."
Although the key to completing online courses is self-management, Rai plays an important role in regulating students' performance by keeping track of their assignments and assessments.
According to Rai, the students are also able to ask for help from teachers, who are available online 24 hours a day.
He admits that there isn't a specific learning centre where people can take the courses, but he has been raising funds to rent a centre that will provide the students with the necessary facilities to learn.
One of four IB online students Rai has been managing, Rabina Rai, 17, is a Nepalese girl born in HK. She compared her experiences in a local school to learning online.
"Something about studying in local school classrooms makes you feel you won't be able to succeed. I believe the IB online courses can break this cycle.
"Local classrooms rely on textbooks, but this course is more stimulating as we have electronic materials and online conferences. The course helps me manage my time and prioritise projects."
Paru Ghale, 14, who moved to HK in 2011, is another Nepalese student. She likes how the courses cater to his interests.
"The local school syllabus does not include pop culture or multi-media assignments, but the IB online courses encourage my interests by offering film studies," she said.
"The courses are project-based, with many opportunities to experiment outside the classroom with things like film-making and photography."
But Ng Po-shing, vice-director of Hok Yau Club, a youth guidance organisation, wants students to know a lot of self-motivation is required to complete an online course.
"These courses are flexible, but students need to think about whether they can really regulate their own studies. They may also find they miss out on school life."
Ng raised the issue that online courses may not be seen as equal to classroom learning yet.
"Online learning is not so popular in Hong Kong, so employers question if these courses are internationally recognised.
"Students must find out how these courses can benefit their knowledge and skills."