High fives in admission of DSE failings

Editorial | Mary Ma 5 Nov 2018

The University of Hong Kong's new admission system to award extra points to students excelling in Diploma of Secondary Education subjects isn't revolutionary but will at least make up for the shortfalls of the current system, whereby talented students won't be admitted if they don't survive the liberal studies or Chinese language's "kiss of death."

The changes, although far from being as radical as wished for by reformers like former financial secretary Antony Leung Kam-chung, will nevertheless be pivotal.

According to HKU, applicants will receive bonus points for every subject at 5 or higher grades - thus there's an extra 0.5 point for Grade 5; one for Grade 5*; and 1.5 for Grade 5** - meaning the respective scores for 5, 5* and 5** grades will be increased from five, six and seven points to 5.5, seven and 8.5 points from next year.

What does this mean for the students?

Director of undergraduate admissions John Spinks said if some students don't perform strongly in one or two subjects for various reasons but do really well in others achieving the top grades, the weighted arrangement would make up for the lower scores, to allow them to stand a fair chance of being admitted to study courses in which they excel.

What Spinks stopped short of making clear was that local universities may lose students of potential because of their performance in Chinese language and the controversial liberal studies subjects - both dubbed as the "papers of death."

Since the education reform to phase in the DSE model, the two subjects have proven to be a hurdle for some who are brilliant in science studies.

The result is, as students put in greater efforts on the core subjects of Chinese and English languages, mathematics and liberal studies to meet the entry requirements, there's been a decline in the pursuit of elective facilitating subjects. That's a pity since liberal studies, for example, isn't really relevant when it comes to university learning.

Faculties have been experiencing a qualitative drop and, without announcing it, giving weighted consideration to subjects related to their faculty specialties. There have been voices of concern over the drawback of the DSE system, but education officials seem to turn a deaf ear to those voices.

Spinks was rather restrained in his comments, but HKU's changes to the scoring method amounted to a formal challenge of that DSE drawback. If the Education Bureau hasn't been listening to these expressions of concern, the SAR's top university is now taking the lead by throwing down the gauntlet.

Leung recently called on universities to take the initiative to reform the education system by considering the learning experience of applicants too. The changes as announced by HKU surely fall short of his wishes. However, they would hopefully encourage secondary schools to place greater emphasis on traditional facilitating subjects - including not only physics, chemistry or biology but also geography and literature.

Will other local universities follow suit and come up with a formal weighted admission system?

It would be just dandy if they do.

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