Hong Kong students have faced a tough year, especially those taking the Hong Kong Diploma of Secondary Education.
First, students suffered a suspension of classes for nearly two thirds of the school year due to both the social unrest and the pandemic. Now continuous delays and changes to the HKDSE has left candidates and teachers with mental fatigue.
On March 21, the government announced that the exams, originally scheduled to take place from March 27 after the first delay, had been pushed back one month to between April 24 and May 25.
Lai Ying-yung, an HKDSE candidate from St Clare’s Girls’ School, said that is good news because students will have more time to prepare, but she also expressed concern for the long term.
“There are too many unknowns right now, and it’s not clear if there will be another delay or if they will even be canceled eventually,” she said.
On March 23 and 24, exams including the International Baccalaureate, General Certificate of Education and the International General Certificate of Secondary Education for May were canceled amid the coronavirus outbreak, affecting nearly 30 schools and thousands of students in Hong Kong.
The HKDSE’s oral exams for Chinese and English languages have also been canceled.
The oral section of the Chinese exam originally accounted for 14 percent of the total score, of which 4 percent will now be assigned to the school-based assessment, while the remaining 10 percent will be allocated to the written exam. For the English exam, the 10 percent from the oral section will all be assigned to the SBA, increasing the SBA portion from 15 to 25 percent.
Secondary school students on March 22 signed a petition calling for local authorities not to cancel the oral exams, which might affect the overall performance of some students.
“For students who have high verbal ability, the oral exam can help them improve their scores and thus distance themselves from others taking the exams,” said Lai. “Increasing the proportion of SBA to some extent increases the unfairness of the examination. There is no strict quantitative standard in the process of the assessment, and some teachers are not objective.”
Lai’s school did not offer any oral training during the suspension, instead focusing on non-candidate students during the online learning period.
Some teachers handed out exercises and conducted review lessons, but it was more of a spontaneous decision than a school policy, she said.
Lau, an English teacher from an English medium of instruction school said her school conducted a few oral training sessions on Zoom for students who signed up.
One of her colleagues expressed sympathy for students who made significant progress in speaking after the SBA as they have no way of scoring higher marks in the public exam now to make up for their loss in the SBA.
“Some students of mine seem to get worried and asked me for their SBA marks,” said Lau.
“But it doesn’t help much to keep looking back, so I encouraged them to focus on the present and do their best in the exam.”
It is no use lamenting this arrangement now, said Lau. The cancellation of the oral exam is a relief for candidates who are relatively weak in speaking, and serious learners always put their all into every assessment, including the SBA, she said.
Stay focused and continued studying – practice papers, read the news and revise vocabulary – Lau suggested. “This is a test of patience and endurance.”
(This article was published at The Standard on April 2, 2020: Education: True test of patience )