Face off: should the DSE English exam be replaced by IELTS?

Face off: should the DSE English exam be replaced by IELTS?

The DSE English exam and IELTS are both challenging, but in different ways. Can one actually replace the other?

Joshua Lee, 18, Cardiff University, Britain

You only need a quick look through a set of HKDSE English examination papers to
spot the problems with how English is being taught. When the papers are confusing to even fluent English speakers, how are local students supposed to be able to pass them?

It goes without saying that English proficiency is vital to maintaining Hong Kong’s reputation as an international city, and yet we are being warned by lawmakers and business leaders of an impending decline in our English skills. One survey found that nearly half of the 300 respondents couldn’t correctly pronounce any of the 10 common English words presented
to them. Doesn’t look like the DSE is helping much.

This decline can be blamed on many things, but I think one of the main reasons comes from how students are being taught English under the HKDSE. They are being forced to cram materials and focus on exam techniques rather than real-world applications.

What we are left with are students that are under an incredible amount of stress who drill information that does nothing to improve their actual English- speaking skills.

The government should consider changing the current system in our city from the DSE to one like the International English Language Testing System (IELTS). The IELTS is a certificate used to prove the English abilities of people who want to work or learn in English-speaking countries.

Compared to the confusing way English is assessed in the HKDSE, the IELTS directly tests a person’s ability to use English in a practical setting. Modifying the HKDSE English exam so that it’s more like the IELTS would go a long way towards improving people’s English. It would also help to remove some of the stress and intensive drilling that students struggle with in order to pass the DSE.

Adopting an IELTS-style system, coupled with coursework and practical teaching, would allow students to improve their English proficiency, and help them develop the skills to use the language in everyday life.


Face off: should the school-based assessment be scrapped?


Lucinda Kam Wing-lam, 20, University of Hong Kong

The HKDSE English language paper is a result of the HK Advanced Level’s Use of English and HKCEE English language exam being merged into one English language proficiency test. In the past, English papers focused more on grammar.

The DSE English language paper places more emphasis on the practical application of English, which is more useful. One of the elective sections, for instance, is about workplace communication. This gives students an idea on how to use written and spoken language in real-life situations. The modules teach students the business English that should be used on the phone or in emails, social issues, pop culture and debating, among others. This is particularly useful as students can talk about controversial issues from different perspectives. All these things are a part of the DSE English paper but don’t appear on the IELTS.

The DSE English paper is more student friendly. Part A of this year’s DSE English writing paper asked students to write a speech explaining the importance of school rules and interpersonal relationships to new students.

School rules and peer-to-peer relationships? These are things that students relate to. You don’t find these things in the IELTS as it’s an English proficiency test and focuses more on English skills and grammar.

One of the best things about the DSE English paper is that it caters for people of all levels of proficiency.

If DSE candidates struggle with their English they can choose B1, which is the easier section, or they can choose the harder B2, when doing the reading and listening papers.

Although the IELTS is the more globally recognised certificate, we shouldn’t forget how useful the grade from the DSE English paper is in the city. Apart from Baptist University, local universities don’t recognise the IELTS results in their entry requirements.

Plus who needs the IELTS to get into universities abroad anyway? Your DSE English exam result is just as valid. The DSE English paper shouldn’t be discounted for use in university admissions and job hunting.

This article appeared in the Young Post print edition as
Should the DSE English exam be replaced by the IELTS?

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