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LC Urgent Q2: Alleviating the study pressure on students

     Following is an urgent question by the Hon Wong Yuk-man under Rule 24(4) of the Rules of Procedure and a reply by the Secretary for Education, Mr Eddie Ng Hak-kim, in the Legislative Council today (March 16):


     More than 20 primary, secondary and university students committed suicide since the start of the current school year in September last year. It has been reported that some of these deceased students had revealed to others before their deaths that they were under a lot of pressure in their studies. Some members of the education sector have pointed out that one of the causes contributing to an increasing number of students committing suicide is that the education system in Hong Kong puts too much emphasis on competition, thus making parents and teachers focus only on the academic results of students which leaves no time for them to help students to cope with emotional distress and pressure. In this connection, will the Government inform this Council:

(1) whether the Education Bureau will expeditiously identify the causes in the current education system which lead to students facing enormous study pressure, and find an appropriate solution to the problem; and

(2) whether the Education Bureau will immediately introduce new measures to alleviate the study pressure on students, with a view to minimising the recurrence of student suicide incidents?



     Suicide is a complex behaviour with no single cause, but results from a complicated interaction of biological, psychological, cognitive and environmental factors, involving academic, health, family, relationship and friendship issues.

     Regarding the questions raised by Hon Wong Yuk-man, I set out my reply as follows:

(1) As I just pointed out when answering the questions raised by Hon Albert Chan Wai-yip, the Education Bureau (EDB), put forward five measures immediately on March 10, with regard to recent student suicide incidents. President, I will not state the measures again here as they have been mentioned earlier.
     In fact, since the implementation of New Academic Structure (NAS) in 2009 to provide a 12-year free education to all students in Hong Kong, instead of sitting for two public examinations, senior secondary (SS) students under the NAS only have to sit for one public examination, which means pressure has been reduced and less time is needed for preparing for examination. Other than the four core subjects, SS students can choose two to three elective subjects out of the 20 senior secondary elective subjects, Applied Learning (ApL) courses and Other Languages. Students are no longer streamed prematurely at an early stage into Arts, Science and Business classes, but are able to choose elective subjects in accordance with their interests and abilities to develop their potentials. In line with the enhancement of vocational and professional education and training, more than 30 ApL courses covering six areas of studies related to professional and vocational fields have been provided for students. The Education Bureau (EDB) has also recently announced that it will provide full subsidy for students to take a maximum of two ApL courses starting from the 2016/17 school year to cater for students' diverse needs and interests.
     The EDB, the Curriculum Development Council and the Hong Kong Examinations and Assessment Authority jointly conducted the NAS Review from 2012 to 2015 to enhance the implementation of the SS curriculum and assessment. After extensive consultation with different stakeholders including schools, parents, and the public, a range of recommendations on curriculum and assessment as well as support measures were implemented by stages from April 2013. These include increasing the flexibility of lesson time to enable schools and teachers to better deploy lesson time to suit the needs of their students and the school contexts; trimming, streamlining or updating curriculum contents to reduce student and teacher workload; clarifying the breadth and depth of subject curricula to help students and teachers better understand curriculum contents and requirements; streamlining School-based Assessment (SBA) in most subjects and not implementing the SBA in 10 subjects to reduce student and teacher workload and enable them to better manage the SBA; and maintaining the whole-school curriculum framework as well as public examination grading mechanism to provide a stable environment for teachers to focus on teaching and provide pastoral care for their students. These measures aimed to address the concern on student and teacher workload in order to release more space for students to improve learning and teaching including values education.

     The EDB issued the circular "Guidelines on Homework and Tests in Schools - No Drilling, Effective Learning"to all secondary and primary schools in October 2015, reiterating that effective homework can facilitate students to consolidate and extend their learning; and inappropriate amount of homework and drilling should be avoided. Home-school communication is also encouraged through means including collecting views from parents on homework arrangements in order to improve the school-based homework policy.

     Multiple pathways are emphasised under the NAS, and SS students can further their studies in local post-secondary programmes, including degree, sub-degree and other diploma programmes or to study outside Hong Kong, taking their interests and academic performance into consideration. Ample opportunities are provided for SS graduates to further their studies, for example, 77,950 school places were available in local institutions for about 74,000 candidates of the 2015 Hong Kong Diploma of Secondary Education Examination.

     About 46 per cent of our young people in the relevant cohort now have access to degree-level education. Including sub-degree education, about 70 per cent of them have access to post-secondary education. In recent years, the Government has implemented a series of measures to further increase subsidised higher education opportunities, in a bid to provide school leavers with broader and more diversified articulation pathways. On full implementation of these measures, and given the declining student population, we envisage that there will be sufficient publicly-funded and self-financing first-year first-degree (FYFD) places for all secondary school leavers meeting minimum entrance requirements for university admission by 2016/17.

(2) As mentioned above, the EDB put forward five measures right away on March 10. Apart from the measure on setting up a cross-disciplinary committee, other measures include arranging regional-based seminars. With these measures, we hope to meet schools' and parents' urgent needs.

     It is very important that students are not surrounded by negativity all day. Therefore, we also issued a letter to schools yesterday to encourage schools to enhance their life education through various school-based activities according to their own circumstances and needs, and to conduct sessions on life education highlighting stress and coping strategies as well as positive values and attitudes, and information on seeking assistance for primary 5 and primary 6, and secondary school students in the earliest possible opportunity. Related teaching materials were provided for schools for reference.

Ends/Wednesday, March 16, 2016
Issued at HKT 15:33


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