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Calls to trim core secondary school subjects to make room for science electives

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Core subjects of the senior secondary school curriculum should be trimmed and basic and advanced level courses offered to provide space for students interested in advanced mathematics and science subjects, the former president of the University of Hong Kong Tsui Lap-chee has said.

His comments came after Hong Kong and Shenzhen signed a deal on Tuesday to jointly develop the Lok Ma Chau Loop into an ­innovation and technology park.

The Academy of Sciences of Hong Kong, which was co-founded by Tsui and promotes the advancement of science and technology in the city, released a report on Thursday that revealed only 54 per cent of students took at least one science subject in 2016’s Diploma of Secondary Education examination. Of this group, 54 per cent of these students only took one science subject, the report stated.

Under the Diploma of Secondary Education system, most students take four core subjects of English language, Chinese language, mathematics, liberal studies and two electives. Science subjects are not compulsory.

Rita Lun Ka-yung, honorary adviser of the academy, pointed out that science-oriented students now took fewer science subjects than those in the previous education system in Hong Kong.

“This leads to a weak foundation of scientific knowledge”, which will hamper Hong Kong’s ability to nurture “the talents needed for innovation and technology development”, she said.

Lun explained the study, which surveyed 154 secondary school principals and interviewed around 100 people including parents, principals, Education Bureau and Hong Kong Examinations and Assessment Authority representatives, found that most principals felt too much time was spent on core subjects, leading to inadequate time left for electives.

She said 55 per cent of 154 secondary school principals surveyed said core subjects took up more than 60 per cent of their teaching time.

An aerial photo shows the location of the Lok Ma Chau Loop. Photo: Handout

Lun explained the focus on the core subjects was due to minimum requirements necessary to enter undergraduate programmes offered by public universities are a minimum of level 3 for the languages and level 2 for the two other core subjects.

With most students only taking two electives, many science-oriented students would opt for another elective of a different discipline to diversify their learning, she said.

To remedy the situation, the academy called for the core subject requirement to be reduced so as to allow for more time to take an additional elective, which could be in science, for more science-oriented students. One suggestion gathered from principals interviewed was to reduce the number of subjects to three or 3.5.

A total of 89 per cent of the respondents suggested reviewing liberal studies and 71 per cent suggested cutting core subjects from four to three or 3.5.

Ma Siu-leung, chief executive of sponsoring body Fung Kai Public School, who participated in the research, said basic and advanced level syllabuses could be offered for the core subjects first, and then the electives. This he said would give flexibility to students with different subject interests.

HKEAA secretary-general Dr Tong Chong-sze said that when DSE was first launched, there were discussions about short-term and mid-term adjustments along the way. He added the authority was willing to discuss and work out the issue.

With the innovation and technology park in the works, Henry Wong Nai-ching, dean of science at the Chinese University and also part of the research team, urged Hong Kong to improve its STEM education, adding Hongkongers could lose its competitive edge to mainland China and overseas applicants for such jobs if it did not do so.

This article appeared in the South China Morning Post print edition as: Calls to free up teaching time for science subjects

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