The Guest Room

A Hong Kong blog that does a lot more than blog

myHK: #1 Problem with the HK Public School System

Well folks, I found a problem!

Yes, I know… there are quite a few…

But, here is the biggest!



“Duh!” you say.

Well, let me break it down for you and let’s discuss.

There are 52 weeks in a calendar year. However, the Hong Kong public schools run from the 1st of September until 11th of July, leaving 45 weeks.

Hong Kong is the land of public holidays and there are three big ones, Christmas, Chinese New Year and Easter. All three lasting around 2 weeks each. Which takes that 45 down to 39 weeks. You also have 8 individual public holidays like Buddha’s birthday and Mid Autumn Festival, so let’s call it 38.

Ok, so 38 out of 56 weeks in a year… That’s not too bad.

Well, here’s where it gets ugly.

There are 4 major exams during the school year in Hong Kong. Which means there are 4 weeks where the students come to school for only half days and all they do during that time is write exams.

It’s not just that!

In addition to those 4 weeks, you also have 4 weeks of cramming beforehand, reviewing and making sure they do everything they can to succeed in the exam, as well as doing oral exams in English and Mandarin. And finally you have the 4 weeks afterwards marking and reviewing the exams.

It’s basically 3 weeks of lost time for each exam, totaling 12 for the year. Which takes the grand total to 26 weeks of learning.

I’m not even including the T.S.A. exams for P3 and P6 students and the fact the the weeks near the summer are spent watching videos and playing.

So for only 26 weeks of the year, students in the public Hong Kong system can potentially learn new things. This is simply unacceptable. Not to mention the amount of hair-raising stress that these exams cause both students and teachers.


Despite these numbers staring Hong Kong straight in the face, why no change? I’ve been teaching in the public system here for 8 years, and I have seen such little adaptation.

In the past 8 years, we have sat still and I continually hear,

“Let’s do this for now, and next year think about doing that.”
I’d love to hear what you think. What do you think is wrong with the education system in Hong Kong?

Hope you’re all having a great week!


9 comments on “myHK: #1 Problem with the HK Public School System

  1. myhongkonghusband
    April 2, 2014

    I don’t know if it is still like that in HK but when my husband was young you could have two path to choose – science or art, language etc., and better overall score you had more chances you had to pick your path. my husband was a genius in science – math, chemistry, physics, so easy, but he sucks (still) in memorizing poems, painting etc. so it made his overall score lower. and what did the school do with a student good in science but bad in any art subject? put him into art path! because everyone ‘good in everything’ already took the science path and there was no more place for him.
    what did my MIL do? send him abroad to Australia, later to America. Now he has two degrees and a california engineering licence issued by board for professional engineers. I hope now they don’t make the same mistakes because they can kill a potential in person! >.<

  2. theguestroom
    April 2, 2014

    Hi MyHKH,


    As we grow and learn more about human nature and development, we must continually adapt. Especially in education!

    We have the future staring us right in the face. Just watch 13 year old Logan LaPlante’s TED talk last February.

    You have to be very brave to make the types of changes needed and most politicians just want to keep their jobs and get that pension.

    Who cares about whether South Korea, Singapore or Hong Kong gets top marks in high school testing? I don’t.

    I look at the end result. Are they happy? Are they able to pursue a career that they love?

    Look at Hong Kong now. Students strive life and death like to get top marks to leave the country for a top university.

    Look at the poverty levels in Hong Kong? Over 19 percent of Hong Kong is under the poverty line.

    Change is needed. Who’s brave?

    Here’s another question met when addressing these issues in HK…

    “It’s not that easy….”


  3. Yuki
    April 2, 2014

    I hvt had a school oversea. I was schooling from kindergarden to university in HK. In old educational system, students need to pass the hkcee and hkale. Now, it replaces by DSE. I was in the old educational system. After hkcee and hkal, I forgot everything from the book coz they were not interesting.I need to pass those public exam within four years. So I just learn the exam skills from those public exam. I looked backwards to my past education, all I know is exam, test and homework. It’s really poor. 

    However, I was still happy coz I can meet friends n hv activities after school. I enjoy the school life but not the public exam life. When the public exam is coming, every teachers and parents encourage me to give up my interests coz they take lots of my time. It is very interesting that they didnt let me give up music coz it can earn money.

    In my opinion, it is very important that family can support both your interests and study. But in real, they are not. They only care abt exam result, enter a good university and finally get a good job. When teachers and parents’ mindset change, the education system will be changed. 

    I agree times of test like TSA and also school exam. The time is really running short. Just let students enjoy their life and be happy. Experiences are more important than exam skills. If we have a life for 80 years, We use 18 years to learn how to get a high score, but we don’t know how to live for the following 62 years. It is really sad. 

  4. theguestroom
    April 2, 2014

    Hi Yuki,

    Thanks for taking the time to comment!

    Yes it is very sad. The whole system is flawed and you pointing out that basically the first quarter of you life was spent moving from exam to exam, is especially depressing.

    I wonder what would happen if someone started a revolutionary school here in HK without any testing at the primary level…


  5. Marcus T Anthony
    April 3, 2014

    It is a great irony indeed that in an age where almost everybody agrees that the old industrial model of education is increasingly irrelevant to work, life and personal development, that many education systems and educational administrators are becoming ever more conservative in their thinking. And it is not just public schooling. Universities are also becoming more rigid and inflexible.

    I wrote a critique of this issue. You can read it here, if you like.


  6. theguestroom
    April 3, 2014

    Hey Marcus,

    Just read your article. You sure have a lot of experience and are definitely someone who knows this topic well.

    It’s the land of fear in Hong Kong. you have less educational choices than toilet paper, and you have parents running around like chickens on the day they deliver throwing money at schools. It’s ridiculous!

    It’s going to take a lot of bravery to see change, and honestly it’s tough to imagine that in Hong Kong at the moment.

    Thanks for stopping by!

    • marcustanthony
      April 3, 2014

      Yes, I taught in HK for eight years, so I know the situation well. In fact almost everybody is aware of the problems. But who has the vision to fix it, and the leadership skills to bring the hyper-conservative admins, teachers and parents screaming into the twentieth century? (No, that’s not a typo!).

    • marcustanthony
      April 3, 2014

      Well, I suppose I should have written “kicking and screaming”.

      BTW, I have not ruled out returning to HK. I’d be interested in playing a role as, ahem, an “agent of change”. I’m a educational futurist, but sadly unemployed in the field. There appears to be little or no interest in deep questioning of educational systems anywhere, despite all the complaints and obvious problems. I really should have done a nuts and bolts PhD, say measuring the impact of computers in english classes, or something to do with classroom management. Rocking the boat tends to get you thrown off the ship. Or worse, they refuse to let you get onboard at all.

  7. theguestroom
    April 3, 2014

    It would be a very interesting adventure opening up a kindergarten/primary school with no testing. I actually think it could be very successful if done right.

    My daughter is 3 now, and I would put her in a school like that if I believed in the teaching philosophy and the facility was enriching.

    However, I guess you would need to have the students tested in P6 to qualify them for secondary schools in Hong Kong…
    If you didn’t open a secondary school as well by that point…

    Why don’t you go for it, Marcus?! 🙂


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