SCMP Saturday, December 9, 2000

Pupils train for top schools


Accusations are mounting from schools and parents that the new system to allocate students to secondary schools is confusing and unfair, and is putting children under new pressure.
After the scrapping earlier this year of the Academic Aptitude Test (AAT) for Secondary One central allocation and written entrance tests for discretionary places, some primary schools have begun training students for face-to-face interviews to help them win places in hotly contested 'elite' schools.
Ida Yeung-cheng, parent of a Primary Six student, said she was typical of parents who believe that the new system favours pupils from top primary schools. "My son would still have a chance if the school used English written tests for screening," she said. As a result of the change, she will choose a Band Two school using Chinese as the medium of instruction to spare her son from disappointment.
Anthony Ip Sing-Piu, headmaster of St Edward's Primary School, said that parents were increasingly anxious. "They feel that they must make their children do everything to get well-prepared for Secondary One admission. In doing so, they are imposing lots of pressure on their kids," he said.
Because the reform has increased the proportion of discretionary places from 10 to 20 per cent, many parents think that their children will have a higher chance of getting into the Band One schools, Mr Ip believes. As a result, as many as 40 per cent of children in his school will apply to the top schools this year, compared with around 15 per cent last year, he said.
Under the reforms, the proportion of discretionary places will be increased to 30 per cent in 2005.
Meanwhile, since Primary Six pupils will not sit the AAT this year, the Education Department will rank primary schools on the AAT performance of their Primary Six students in the past three years for the central allocation of places. This arrangement will hold until a new allocation system is developed in line with the Education Commission's reform proposals.
The ranking determines the number of places in each band group available to primary schools. Tang Chee-shing, principal of SKH Kei Oi Primary School, said: "This is unfair because the quality of Primary Six students in the school varies year to year."
The AAT has been scrapped in order to release pupils from too many examinations and allow for more rounded development. But so far, the pressure does not appear to have been reduced.
Some schools have introduced training in interview techniques for their Primary Six students. The SKH Kei Hin Primary School, for instance, has replaced Saturday extra-curricular activities with mock interview sessions. Principal Li Kit-kong said that teachers and principals from other schools acted as interviewers. The interviews are filmed on video.
Yick Ka-yee, principal of Bonham Road Government Primary School, said: "The interviews and formal training that some primary schools emphasise will just place students under a new type of pressure."
As the new guidelines on discretionary places were only introduced three months ago, secondary schools told Education Post that they had yet to set up their admission criteria.
Tang Chee-shing, principal of SKH Kei Oi Primary School, said the change had put new pressure on primary schools, as well as their students. "It is difficult for us to cater for the needs of each Primary Six student because different secondary schools have different admission requirements."
Ching Wai-hung, Senior Education Officer of School Places Allocation (Secondary One), said that confusion was inevitable in the transition period. "The reform is not meant to put more pressure on the students. Interviews are about communication skills that are needed in daily life," he said.
The application period runs between now and February 23.