What can bring adults to the study room and make them sit a public exam?
Thanks to Financial Secretary Paul Chan’s plan to waive the fees for those taking next year’s Hong Kong Diploma of Secondary Education (DSE) Examination, we are likely to see hundreds, no, thousands of adults – office workers, job hunters, journalists, expatriates and even retirees – trooping to the exam venues to test their language skills, knowledge of current affairs, or just for the heck of it because they have nothing better to do. For them, the most important thing is that it won’t cost them a cent.
Chan probably included that freebie in his budget speech as part of the government’s package of sweeteners for the education sector because it won’t cost the government much – or so he thought.
The unexpected surge in the number of adults seeking to take the the DSE exams next year following Chan’s announcement is exemplified by #everyonetakesDSE campaign on Facebook.
The campaign, however, is not so much about citizens wanting to find out the level of their language skills and general knowledge as an expression of their disappointment over the government’s stinginess in the face of this year’s record budget surplus of HK$138 billion and a fiscal reserve of over HK$1 trillion.
The Hong Kong Economic Journal calls the budget a sort of pepper-spraying of tiny goodies to the various sectors of society, and this may explain why Chan got the lowest score for his budget in the past 11 years.
Of course, Chan’s intention is simply to reduce the financial burden of DSE candidates and encourage private candidates to take the exams. But it is only now that we are seeing the potential impact of the DSE exam fee waiver on the entire examination system.
Just think of how much the government should boost the manpower and resources to administer the exams in the face of a surge in the number of DSE candidates next year.
For this year, over 59,000 candidates sat the exam, down 4 percent from the previous year. About 12 percent of the candidates were private students.
Although the number of DSE candidates is expected to plunge to nearly 50,000 next year, the expected surge in the number of private students would have more than made up for the shortfall.
Parents whose children are taking the DSE next year are starting to get worried about this development. Many of the incremental candidates are presumably older, smarter, more knowledgeable and articulate than their kids, and are likely to dominate the written tests and oral discussions. That would put their kids at a huge disadvantage.
Many of these parents, in fact, have said that they would rather pay the exam fees (HK$619 for the language subjects and HK$414 for the rest) than have more examinees who would reduce the chances of their kids getting good marks at the tests.
Look what you’ve done, Mr. Financial Secretary, now more parents would probably prefer the International Baccalaureate system than the mainstream program because you’ve turned the DSE exam into another potentially hellish experience for their kids.
But, of course, you can’t blame Chan. His kids are university graduates who never suffered the DSE system.
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