Coronavirus: HK education officials mulling backup plans for university entrance exams as further delay or cancellation looms

04-Apr-2020 Intellasia | South China Morning Post | 6:02 AM Print This Post

Education officials in Hong Kong are mulling contingency plans for the city’s university entrance examinations following a one-month postponement caused by the coronavirus pandemic, as further delays or even cancellations loom.

The Post has learned the government has consulted publicly funded universities over the likely impact of pushing back again, or calling off entirely, the Diploma of Secondary Education assessments.

And some university leaders have agreed that if the exams had to be delayed to July, the start of the new school term should be postponed to October, according to a government source.

Secondary school principals who spoke to the Post said candidates should still receive a final grade for university admission in case the DSE exams were eventually cancelled.

The score could be calculated from students’ internal assessment and mock exam results.

Hong Kong’s DSE exams, which were originally expected to begin from March 27, had been postponed until April 24 following a surge of Covid-19 cases in the city, affecting some 52,000 candidates.

International exams such as the International Baccalaureate and IGCSE were cancelled worldwide last month.

A government source on Thursday told the Post that the Education Bureau and the Hong Kong Examinations and Assessment Authority (HKEAA) were considering possible contingency plans in case any changes were made.

Teddy Tang Chun-keung, chair of the Hong Kong Association of the Heads of Secondary Schools, said that although a more ideal scenario would be for exams to continue, education officials should come up with alternative plans in advance.

“Under the circumstances that students’ and teachers’ health can be guaranteed, the education sector believes it’s important to complete this year’s DSE exams, or at least part of the exams,” Tang said. “And if all or some of the exams were to be cancelled, students should still receive a final result.”

Tang also suggested that if the DSE exams were dropped, students’ final grades could come from items such as their internal test results, mock exam performances, as well as previous school-based assessments.

He added that grades calculated this way should also be based on past cohorts’ performances within each school as internal tests varied across schools to ensure fair results across the board.

“The [process] has to be open and transparent… and different stakeholders should be consulted, including secondary schools, universities, parents and students,” he said, as he urged the government to discuss the matter with the sector as soon as possible.

James Lam Yat-fung, principal of Lions College and former chair of the Subsidised Secondary Schools Council, also said education authorities should come up with alternative plans which would be widely accepted by students and parents.

He pointed out, however, that some schools had not completed their mock exams this year following a citywide suspension of classes since early February.

“If the [DSE] exams can proceed, it would be best to ensure fairness for all students,” said Lam. “But if the exams really need to be cancelled, an alternative formula to come up with a final grade should [at least] be generally accepted by students. If students and parents do not agree on such a formula, it’s probably going to bring up [other issues].

“The DSE results have an impact not only on students’ university admissions, but would also be considered by their future employers.”

But DSE candidate Mickey Leung, 17, who is from a secondary school in Tuen Mun, said some students already felt pressured after a one-month postponement of the exams.

“If the daily surge in cases continues this month, I think it might be better to cancel the exams. Because if they are further postponed, it would make students more anxious… We would have to adjust our preparations again,” she said.

The HKEAA, while reiterating in a reply on Thursday that the DSE exams would not be “hastily cancelled”, said it had been keeping in close contact with the Education Bureau, health authorities, as well as the secondary and tertiary education sector on suitable contingency plans.

The bureau said it would follow the pandemic closely and make an announcement early if the need for special arrangements arose.

Meanwhile, the administration was also assessing the possibility of resuming classes, but medical experts agreed that without a fall in the number of new infections, schools should remain closed until summer, according to two sources.

Primary and secondary school heads also told the Post they hoped classes could resume before the summer break, so teachers would have a chance to follow-up on the learning progress of students.

Some 900,000 kindergarten, primary and secondary school students have not returned to school for more than eight weeks, with most of them turning to online learning.

Education officials had earlier said classes would be suspended until further notice.

Lin Chun-pong, vice-chair of the Hong Kong Association of the Heads of Secondary Schools, said secondary school heads still hoped students could make up for lost time, as some schools were prepared to shorten the summer break by one to three weeks.

Cheung Yung-pong, honorary chair of the Aided Primary School Heads Association, said teachers could better assess students’ progress if face-to-face classes could resume before the summer.


Category: Hong Kong

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