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LCQ19: Examination fees for non-Chinese speaking students taking Chinese Language examinations
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     Following is a question by the Hon Abraham Shek Lai-him and a written reply by the Acting Secretary for Education, Mr Kenneth Chen, in the Legislative Council today (March 28):

Question:

     It has been reported that a local Secondary Four student of Indian origin and her two brothers are going to sit for the General Certificate of Education Examinations (GCE), and it will cost the family a total of $12,000 to pay the examination fees if they take all the GCE subjects, and the examination fee of GCE Advanced Supplementary Level (AS-level)/Advanced Level (A-level) Chinese subject is already $2,720/$4,080, which is higher than that of the Hong Kong Diploma of Secondary Education (HKDSE) Chinese Language examination of $540 paid by a local secondary student.  It has also been reported that there are some 150 ethnic minority (EM) students who want to sit for the examinations of GCE Chinese subject, but no financial assistance has been provided by the Government.  In this connection, will the Government inform this Council:

(a) given that the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region is bound by the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination and that the Race Discrimination Ordinance (Cap. 602) has been enacted, whether it has assessed if the difference in the examination fee level set for local secondary students and that for EM students constitutes discrimination against EM students; if the assessment result is in the affirmative, of the details, and the measures it has taken to address the situation; if the assessment result is in the negative, the reasons for that;

(b) of the respective numbers of EM students who had sat for the examinations of General Certificate of Secondary Examination, and GCE AS-level and A-level Chinese subject in each of the past three years; whether it has considered any measure to provide financial assistance or scholarships to EM students who have to sit for such examinations due to academic and employment needs, with a view to meeting their financial needs in paying the relevant examination fees; if it has, of the details; if not, the reasons for that;

(c) given that according to the government statistics in 2006, the median monthly income from main employment of the working ethnic minorities was $3,500, whether the Government has assessed if the current examination fees for GCE AS-level and A-level Chinese subject are at an affordable level for the families of EM students; if the assessment result is in the negative, of the principles it adopted and the factors it considered when determining the levels of such fees, and whether it has considered reducing such fees; if it has, of the details; if not, the reasons for that;

(d) of the total cost of the manpower and resources incurred for organising the examinations of GCE AS-level and A-level Chinese subject in the past three years, and whether the total amount of examination fees received from EM students taking such examinations were adequate in offsetting the total organising cost; if a surplus was recorded after deducting the total cost, of the details of how the surplus was used; if a deficit was recorded, whether the Government has conducted an assessment to evaluate the effectiveness of organising the examinations of GCE AS-level and A-level Chinese subject as alternatives to the HKDSE Chinese Language examination; if it has, of the details; if not, the reasons for that; and

(e) given that a non-governmental organisation (NGO), which fights for EM's interest, had sought help from the Community Care Fund (CCF) to subsidise EM students in need to pay for the examination fees for GCE AS/A-level subjects, but was rejected, of the reasons for CCF to refuse to grant subsidy to the NGO concerned for such purpose; whether the Government will suggest CCF to re-consider approving similar requests for subsidy in the coming financial year?

Reply:

President,

     My reply to the question raised by Hon Shek is as follows:

(a) and (c) The Government is committed to facilitating non-Chinese speaking (NCS) students to adapt to the local education system and early integration into the community.  We have put in place a series of support measures to enhance the teaching and learning, especially on Chinese language, of NCS students, drawing reference from research findings which suggest that given support and empowerment, the learning outcome of some NCS students can be on par with that of local students.  For NCS students who are able to attain Chinese proficiency comparable to their local counterparts, they are encouraged to take the Chinese Language paper in the Hong Kong Diploma of Secondary Education (HKDSE).  Recognising that some NCS students, in particular those who have a late start in learning Chinese or have not been given full opportunity to study the local Chinese curriculum, may prefer to attain alternative Chinese Language qualifications, we have administered the General Certificate of Secondary Education (GCSE) (Chinese) Examination in Hong Kong through the Hong Kong Examinations and Assessment Authority (HKEAA) since 2007, the qualification of which has been accepted as an alternative Chinese qualification for consideration for admission to University Grants Committee-funded institutions through the Joint University Programmes Admissions System as well as appointment to basic ranks in the civil service.

     Eligible school candidates sitting for the GCSE (Chinese) Examination have been subsidised to the effect that the fee level of the GCSE (Chinese) Examination payable is on par with the Chinese Language paper in the defunct Hong Kong Certificate of Education Examination or HKDSE.  Besides, starting from the 2011/12 school year, the Examination Fee Remission has been extended to help eligible needy NCS students by granting full or half fee remission for the GCSE (Chinese) Examination.

     It is worth noting that the Chinese Language examinations under the International General Certificate of Secondary Education (IGCSE) and General Certificate of Education (GCE) are overseas examinations.  The HKEAA administers these overseas examinations on a full-cost recovery basis and takes into consideration the charges of the relevant overseas examination boards and other related operating expenses in determining the fee levels for the examinations.  The HKEAA will review annually the examination fees of these non-local examinations.  

     Against the above, differential examination fees level in this context is not considered as discrimination.

(b) The HKEAA does not require candidates to indicate their ethnic origin or first language when registering for examinations including the afore-mentioned overseas examinations on the Chinese Language.   As such, statistics on the number of NCS students taking these examinations are not available.  The total number of candidates sitting for the Chinese Language examinations under the GCSE, GCE Advanced Subsidiary Level (AS-Level) and Advanced Level (A-Level) Examinations with breakdown by school and private candidate is at the Annex for reference.

(d) At the Legislative Council's motion debate on "Reviewing the education policy for ethnic minority students" held on 8 February 2012, the Secretary for Education has undertaken to examine the desirability of NCS students' participation in the above-mentioned examinations with reference to the different designs and relevant requirements for Chinese proficiency, the related support to schools / students in terms of teacher training and provision of teaching and learning materials, etc. so that when enhancing assessment for learning, we may facilitate NCS students to cross over to different levels in the learning process in primary and secondary education to realise their potentials.  In other words, should some NCS students consider GCSE (Chinese) Examination as having a relatively simpler content vis-j-vis their Chinese proficiency, they may contemplate taking alternative internationally recognised Chinese examinations whose contents and qualifications constitute, in their view, a more appropriate reflection of their level of attainment.  The Education Bureau would explore the possibility of giving the NCS students the option of sitting for these overseas examinations instead and any financial assistance that may be required having regard to their financial needs.

(e) The Community Care Fund rolled out a programme in September 2011 to provide financial assistance to ethnic minorities and new arrivals from the Mainland for taking language-related examinations for continuing education or employment.  The target beneficiaries are non-school-attending persons from low-income families who have passed the means test establishing eligibility for assistance under specified assistance schemes, or whose monthly household income is below the specified income limit.  Having regard to the views and suggestions from stakeholders, the scope of assistance of the programme has been extended to cover the GCE (A-Level / AS-Level) and GCSE Chinese Language examinations to be taken by non-school-attending ethnic minorities and new arrivals.

Ends/Wednesday, March 28, 2012
Issued at HKT 15:20

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