19 October 2018
Local students still display a high preference for science subjects, but their confidence levels in solving science problems have dipped. Photo: GovHK
Local students still display a high preference for science subjects, but their confidence levels in solving science problems have dipped. Photo: GovHK

Hong Kong slips in latest education rankings, trailing Singapore

Hong Kong dropped to ninth place in science and second in reading and mathematics to trail Singapore in the latest rankings of the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA), Ming Pao Daily reports.

The global educational rankings, done every three years by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, are based on tests in the three subjects taken by 15-year-olds from 72 countries and regions.

The latest tests, the sixth, were conducted in April to May last year. 

Researchers pointed out that since Hong Kong implemented the New Secondary Curriculum in 2009, the number of students electing science subjects in the territory has dropped drastically.

Local students in tertiary education were found to have weaker science foundations, suggesting that Hong Kong’s STEM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics) Education is not working quite as well as planned.

In Hong Kong, the research was conducted with random sampling, with the Chinese University of Hong Kong inviting 5,000 15-year-olds from 138 schools to take part in the tests.

In the previous three editions of the PISA assessments, local elite students scored around 660 to 672 points in science.

However, the highest score attained by Hong Kong students last year was only 656.

While local students still displayed a high preference for science subjects, above the average OECD levels, their confidence levels in solving science problems dipped.

Professor Esther Ho Sui-chu, director of the Hong Kong Centre for International Student Assessment who led the research in the city, said statistics reflect a lack of science aces in Hong Kong, Sing Tao Daily reported.

However, Hong Kong’s ranking in science, ninth out of 72 countries, is not too bad a result, Ho said.

She said local students spending less time on science subjects under the new curriculum with three elective subjects, could be the reason to their lagging performance in science.

Results showed that picking three science subjects is no longer a popular choice among local students, Ho said, adding that such a phenomenon calls for a review of science education in Hong Kong.

Professor Victor Lau Kwok-chi, also from CUHK, said teachers need to spend more time on teaching students basic knowledge before moving on to a higher level in the university.

Commenting on the latest PISA rankings, the Education Bureau said students are no longer limited to one stream of studies under the new curriculum, citing Liberal Studies as an example of interdisciplinary core subject, according to Ming Pao Daily. 

More students have been able to take part in the government-subsidized four-year science tertiary programs, showing that the training for science subjects can be shifted from secondary schools to tertiary institutions, the bureau said.

The PISA results also showed that the gap between students from better socio-economic background and the less privileged has narrowed, a noteworthy improvement although those from traditional schools still scored higher, quoted Ho as saying.

The results also showed that local female students have better reading skills than their male counterparts, leading by around 28 points, although the two groups have a similar level of performance in science and mathematics.

Overall, local students scored better than immigrant students or Hong Kong-born students with immigrant parents, something which has differed from results in previous years.

Ho called on schools to provide more assistance to immigrant students.

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