A-level at risk in call for reform


University heads say young people need flexibility and wisdom - not specialisation. Katherine Forestier reports

The heads of Hong Kong's universities want A-levels to be scrapped as part of a sweeping reform of the education system.

r-indent = The university heads have issued a consultation paper calling for sixth-form studies to be cut from two years to one. Two thirds of university places would be awarded on the basis of Hong Kong's Certificate of Education exam results - the equivalent of GCSEs - and the remainder through internal school results and recommendations, interviews and non-academic activity.

Professor Edward Chen Kwan-yiu, president of Lingnan College and convenor of the committee, said: "This is to broaden the secondary-school curriculum. The existing system suffers from over-specialisation at too early a stage." Specialisation should be deferred until the second or third year of university, say the heads. Degree courses should be four rather than three years.

The paper proposes that for the certificate of education, students should study at least one arts, science and practical subject, as well as the core subjects of Chinese language, English language, maths and IT.

Professor Chen said that the change would meet the requirements of the next century, when wisdom rather than an outdated body of specialist knowledge would be at a premium.

Young people needed flexibility, vision and a global outlook, he said. "The role of the new sixth form is a very interesting concept. It would be better used for personality development, leadership and language development, and to prepare students to go to university or work," he said.

Dr Darnay Chan Siu-kiu, a sixth-form college principal, said that scrapping A-levels would make school meaningless for his students. "It would be a disaster. We can't do anything in one year. The time is too short." Students and even some teachers would lack the incentive to apply themselves. A-levels were also a more reliable indicator of their abilities, he said.

Only half of Hong Kong's sixth-form students go on to university. Dr Chan is concerned that the remainder would be left without a matriculation certificate.

The proposal has been widely opposed in the Hong Kong media. Professor Chen said critics had been too conservative. Issues raised were "technical problems" that could be solved. Inspired curriculum and teaching, rather than exams, should arouse the interest of sixth-form students, he said.

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