Exam row fueled by people with low IQ

Editorial | Mary Ma 6 Mar 2018

Financial Secretary Paul Chan Mo-po's budget proposal to let candidates sit the Diploma of Secondary Education examinations for free in 2019 has stirred up much emotion, which is a development that is totally out of the blue.

Who would have predicted that people would act so irrationally as to want to sabotage a plan of goodwill?

Immediately after Chan's speech, some people online called on everyone to retake the DSE exams to claim the benefits - a few even intimating that their participation could adversely affect the results of current students.

These are insane ideas, and I'm amazed how our society has been panicking over it.

The swift outcry over Chan's decision not to come up with a cash handout despite the government's record-breaking surplus may be explained by vested partisan interests to appease voters ahead of the Legislative Council by-elections on Sunday. We have seen parties that opposed cash payouts in the past now backing them out of political necessity.

However, the appeals to a mob mentality over the DSE freebie is hard to explain.

The only plausible answer would have to do with deep-seated conflicts in society, with the disgruntled assailing the scheme out of anger over the general situation. The DSE freebie is the soft part of the budget, and can be kicked out easily.

If that's the case, the administration obviously must do more to narrow the wealth gap, and restore social mobility in order to give people hope.

Nobody would be intimidated more easily than parents and students. Anything that may be perceived as a threat to children's public examination results - however unreal - would set off alarm bells.

Their apprehension is understandable, but they should know their fears were misguided once they understand how exam answers are marked. The number of candidates is irrelevant to most outcomes.

The era when exam results were rated by curves is long over. Exams are now graded against a set of standards, rather than in comparison to others. So, even if the number of candidates increases drastically - a most unlikely scenario - the impact would be negligible.

High achievers might be affected, since among those scoring the 5-grade range, only the top 10 percent will get 5** with the next 30 percent receiving 5* and the rest 5.

Would it be likely that those taking the exams merely to sabotage the budget proposal would be prepared to devote so much time to doing revision exercises, and practicing past exam papers, in order to achieve the very top grades just to influence others' results?

That's an unrealistic hypothesis. Perhaps education officials can do more explaining on this.

I'm not concerned about the damage that's unreal. Rather, I'm surprised quite a few people - including a number of so-called elitists - have succumbed to the fears and helped blow them out of proportion.

Education officials are now saying they may limit the DSE freebie to school candidates. That may be convenient policy-wise, but will be utterly unfair to those who are studying really hard to take the exams as private candidates.

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