Opening address by Mrs Fanny Law, GBS, JP,
Permanent Secretary for Education and Manpower
at the HKEAA-CIE Joint Conference
on Wednesday, 6 September 2006
Dr Hill, Distinguished Guests, Ladies and Gentlemen,
May I begin by welcoming you all to this Conference. I want to extend a special welcome to Hong Kong to our international visitors, in particular:
I do hope that our colleagues from overseas will have the opportunity to learn more about Hong Kong and even have time, after the conference, to explore the exciting night life in this Asia ’s world city and contribute to our economy by doing some shopping, for which we are renowned.
This conference, entitled: “Meeting Diversity of Needs and Ability in the Curriculum and Assessment”, is most timely for educators in Hong Kong, as we embark on a new academic structure for our senior secondary and higher education accompanied by curriculum and assessment reforms.
Meeting new demands in an Information Age
Everywhere, educational reformers are seeking ways to provide young people with an education that equips them to succeed and be good citizens in an information age, which requires the ability to access, select, interpret, analyse, and use information for making decisions. The skills and competencies required to succeed in today’s workplace are changing as well, with an increasing emphasis on thinking skills and personal qualities, including the ability to work with people, self-management, integrity and honestly.
The learning goals of education must change accordingly to reflect the community expectations and demands in the workplace. Our students need to be exposed to a thinking curriculum that fosters problem solving and creativity. They also need a more general education that provides a broad knowledge base. Narrow specialization will only serve to limit their horizons and lateral thinking.
In addition, while academic standards remain important, it is essential that young people develop as individuals of good character, which means that they need to have opportunities to engage in a wide range of other learning activities, including community service, participation in cultural and sporting activities and so on.
Most importantly, this kind of education needs to be for all young people. In the past, education systems have performed a social selection function when access to senior secondary and higher education is limited to the more academically inclined and the more able.
This was reasonable in a world in which active participation in society did not require high levels of education. But it is less tenable in the modern world.
The social and economic costs of not adopting an inclusive approach to education and of not personalizing learning are enormous. In addition, there is the overarching moral imperative to provide learning opportunities for all young people in response to diverse human characteristics and plural social standards.
Reform of the academic structure in HK
Here in Hong Kong , the Government is in the process of implementing a multi-billion dollar reform to provide six years of secondary education for all students, after which those proceeding to undergraduate studies will typically follow a four-year rather than a three year degree programme. Currently, only a third of students do sufficiently well in the public examination at the end of five years of secondary education to be permitted to enter sixth form.
The new academic structure, with its baccalaureate-style senior secondary curriculum and four years of undergraduate study, is broadly in line with that of systems in North America, Europe, Australasia and of course Mainland China.
As part of the New Senior Secondary curriculum, all students will study four core subjects: Chinese Language, English Language, Mathematics and Liberal Studies. In addition, students will select two or three elective subjects drawn from a list of 20 science, humanities, arts and language subjects, and a range of applied learning courses with titles such as Fundamental Movie Production, Fashion Design, and Computer Networking.
Liberal Studies is a new subject that has been designed to assist students to integrate what they learn across the curriculum, to understand some of the contemporary issues confronting modern society and to explore what it means to be a citizen of Hong Kong , China and the world. An important component of Liberal Studies will be an independent study which all students will complete.
The introduction of career-oriented courses in secondary schools is a new attempt currently being piloted. The initial response to these courses has been overwhelmingly positive. They have helped to re-ignite a desire to learn among many students who had become disaffected with traditional academic learning.
Unfortunately, previous attempts in Hong Kong to cater for the diverse range of aptitudes and interests have not met with great success. Many parents value only strictly academic subjects that are seen to be most valued by universities. A lot has to be done to establish the worth of these new courses and of making them accessible to students. We are keen to learn from the experience of others in this regard.
The challenge for assessment
In an examination-oriented culture, in Hong Kong and many other Asian societies, student assessment is inevitably the centerpiece to drive reform. As the curriculum goals change, assessment must also change.
Two high stake public examinations – the Advanced Level and Certificate Examination -- are being replaced with a single exit examination leading to the award of the Hong Kong Diploma of Secondary Education. A standards-referenced approach to reporting results will be introduced and school-based assessment will be more widely used to assess important learning outcomes that cannot readily be assessed through a single written examination. These changes present new challenges. In a high stake public examination, how to assure fairness and consistency of standards between teachers and schools in school-based assessment is a major concern for teachers and students.
To cater for the full range of student aptitudes and abilities, the new examinations will assess a wider range of outcomes and focus more on higher-order thinking. Consideration is also being given to the use of graded tests to accommodate different levels of performance within a given cohort of students. Our goal is to accommodate the full range of performance which is currently exhibited in the AL and CE examinations, and through standards referencing, show improvement over time.
Importantly, however, academic standards will be retained using equating of successive examinations. We are all too conscious of the dangers of grade inflation when cut scores standards are decided on the basis of judgments rather than psychometric evidence regarding standards of performance.
I am sure these are all issues with which you are all very familiar: they are the kinds of issues that we all confront. None of us has a perfect solution to the problem of extending educational opportunities to all while maintaining high standards.
I can see from the conference program that over the next few days we will all be stimulated to reflect deeply on ways in which we can approach the challenge of meeting the diverse needs of all students, and (as John West aptly expresses it) the diverging needs of stakeholders in the years ahead.
This is a vital task and one that requires time for reflection and sharing of experiences.
I would like to thank and congratulate Cambridge International Examinations for initiating this conference. We in Hong Kong cherish our longstanding and ongoing relationship with Cambridge Assessment’s (formerly UCLES) international division.
I would also like to thank HKEAA for being a joint sponsor of the conference and for making the local arrangements.
It is my sincere hope that through sharing and dialogue we can advance our thinking and commitment on the best ways forward as we all seek to better respond to student diversity in the context of providing a quality education.