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The problem with Hong Kong’s education system

Hong Kong students tell 8forty they are stressed out and feeling hopeless due to an education system that determines their future.

Hong Kong students are killing themselves. From 2014 to 2016, the rate of suicide of students age 15 to 24 increased from 6.2 to 9.5 (per 100,000) with 75 Hong Kong citizens in that age range committing suicide in 2016. Researchers found that those students had “academic problems and a psychiatric history.”

Seventeen-year-old Hannah Mak, currently in her last year of high school, feels that pressure to get into the right university is a major stress. “One of my biggest stress is the pressure of getting in a good Hong Kong university.” Mak stated that the Hong Kong environment puts pressure on students to attend university, but there are only 13 institutions and universities in Hong Kong, and not all of them have the high rankings employers are looking for. Because there are over 500 secondary schools in Hong Kong, this is a highly competitive environment. Mak feels that the pressure students feel lead to many of the reported suicides.

Hong Kong is a densely populated city that includes both Traditional Chinese and Western culture. It ranked 8th in the 1st quarter rankings of 2019 World Best Education Systems which is conducted by the World Top 20 Project. All of Hong Kong’s students take the Hong Kong Diploma of Secondary Education Examination (HKDSE) at the end of grade 12. HKDSE is an academic qualification and a university entrance exam. It has international recognition for students who would like to go overseas for further studies to meet the requirements of foreign universities, such as the major universities in British Columbia’s lower mainland: the University of British Columbia and Simon Fraser University.

Although Hong Kong’s education system is considered among the world’s best, there are negative repercussions and the system has been blamed for giving students stress or a sense of hopelessness and students are often faced with mental health issues.

Interviews with students from Hong Kong make it is clear that they share a consensus about the education system. They describe Hong Kong’s education system as simply “teaching to the test.” While most foreign countries are trying not to carry out this approach, East-Asian countries, such as China and Singapore, maintain it.

“The ultimate goal of all students is to get a high result in DSE rather than learning how to use their knowledge,” sixteen-year-old Hong Kong student Tiffany Wong says. Wong thinks the education system makes students simply memorize everything rather than understand it, and that the information could not to be useful as a “concrete skill in life.” She also states when students finish the exam, it will find they are forgetting everything: “These kinds of short-term memories will not be beneficial to our future studies.”

The tutorial culture in which students take additional classes after the regular school day is over, is strong in Hong Kong. Many students will attend tutorial lessons every week, or even every day. Professor Mark Bray from the University of Hong Kong, found that in 2012, “54 percent of Form Three and 72 percent of Form Six students go for extra tuition after school.” Students tend to join tutorial lessons, not only to achieve better results, but to learn exam skills. Famous tutors are described as “tutors kings” or “celebrity tutors” because former students who joined their courses achieved high results from DSE, gaining entrance into prestigious universities. Tutors also provide many study materials, “teach students to the memorize the key points, predict the trend of exam questions and demonstrate the fastest way to solve problems.”

Most of my students I spoke to attend tutorial lessons after school–at least two or three different courses per week. One said that even though tutorial lessons are helpful, they don’t help or teach much in “personal moral cultivation.” She takes Chinese, English and Math tutorial lessons every week but she thinks tuition emphasis is on streamlining and speed. “Now I don’t have [much] time to think and [am] unable to concentrate for a long time.”

Despite Hong Kong’s competitive education system, students are still suffering. Mak thinks parents shouldn’t only concern the well-being students in the system, “parents need to consider whether their children needs and balance their rest time.” Mak says the system “should strengthen the student’s shortcomings, in order to understand the difficulties and further help.”

Image credit: Istockphoto.com / edsource.org

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