HONG KONG is planning a radical shake-up of its entire education system in the interests of lifelong learning.
In an assault on the test-driven system, the Education Commission has announced plans to scrap key exams, including Hong Kong's equivalent of GCSEs.
The commission also wants to reform the secondary admissions process, linking schools to allow pupils automatic promotion from primary to secondary level.
Secondary students would no longer be divided into arts and science streams. The GCSE-equivalent Certificate of Education exam and A-levels would be combined.
The commission has put its review, entitled "Learning For Life", out for public consultation. The resulting recommendations will be presented to Hong Kong's chief executive Tung Chee-hwa in the middle of next year.
The main theme of the reform,said Anthony Leung, the commission's chairman, involves cultural changes, changing the concept from working very hard for public exams every two or three years to extending the learning period to people's lifetimes. "What we are hoping is to reduce the emphasis on public exams which tend to measure only one aspect of students' ability and distort the entire learning process."
No timetable has yet been set for the changes, but Mr Leung wants action within 10 years.
The first changes would be made at kindergarten and university levels. The commission wants kindergarten teachers to be better qualified and pre-schools to be more closely monitored to ensure that they teach children according to their developmental needs.
"There are kindergartens in Hong Kong that are teaching too much vocabulary and arithmetic too early in life and depriving students of the opportunity to be curious, communicative and, worse, taking away their joy of learning," said Mr Leung.
At university-level, the commission proposes greater flexibility in admission and courses, with studdents able to transfer between universities and colleges. Those who don't get places in universities should be able to pursue degrees in community colleges.
Lifelong learning centres, equipped with libraries, computers, study rooms and staffed by advisers are also envisaged.
Professor Cheng Kai-ming, pro-vice-chancellor of the University of Hong Kong and a member of the commission, said: "Our students are good at exams, but they are not creative enough and not prepared to change."
The commission has looked at the aims of education: "The focus should shift from quantity to quality. Spoon-feeding must be avoided while the quality and effectiveness of teaching and learning should be enhanced."
Elite schools are worried about being linked with poorer schools. Lawrence Lo, of the Catholic Education Office which runs many of Hong Kong's leading schools, said the top schools would resist the plan. "Parents won't want bad primaries linked with a good secondary school, or vice versa," he said.