Perspective

Congratulations to the HKEAA on reaching its 40th anniversary. When I reached retirement age, the HKEA had just celebrated its 20th anniversary. Looking back from this distance, not surprisingly, what I remember are the events and innovations that I was personally involved with. Here are some of the things that standout in my memory…

In 1978, as SO1 (subject officer) of English, I was aware that the HKCEE English Language syllabuses were very old fashioned in their approach, both in terms of syllabus content and in what the examinations tested. Throughout the 80s and early 90s there was an ongoing step-by-step process to modernise them. Later we faced a similar challenge with the Use of English examination syllabus which we inherited from HKU.

The oral examination at the CE level was particularly problematic since in a ten-minute test it used a quite inadequate picture description and a clichéd dialogue with the examiner. The problem we faced was that any improved examination format would involve doubling the number of examiners – altogether too daunting a prospect in view of the number of qualified examiners available to us. The answer was to devise a format where we could examine the candidates, two at a time, using a pair of examiners in a 20-minute time slot. Later, when the Use of English examination was completely remodelled, an oral examination was added and the HKCEE model was successfully employed. An evening slot was used to enlarge the examiner pool.

The Use of English listening tests, inherited from HKU, posed major problems with providing an examination hall environment where the candidates were treated fairly in terms of the sound quality in different parts of the hall and between halls. The use of wireless headphones and magnetic induction loops was a big step forward but far from perfect. The next step involved the students bringing their own Walkman radios to the centres and this was a huge improvement. Bringing this about was no easy task as it meant that the senior management of Radio HK (RTHK) had to be persuaded that, despite some mid-morning disruption to their programming schedules, it was in their interests to have 100,000 plus students introduced to the English language service!

When listening tests were introduced at the CE level, the opportunity was taken to design a paper that integrated different skills. The candidates had to perform tasks that integrated listening skills with searching for relevant information in a data booklet to produce a written outcome. This was a major step forward in the always difficult challenge of producing examinations that better reflect the use of English in the real world.

My early work as an SO for English in the marking of English compositions led me to the very uncomfortable discovery that, when the large team of CE assistant examiners marked the same set of sample scripts, the results were unacceptably inconsistent. (Part of the marking scheme involved counting grammatical errors.) This led to double marking and a marking scheme using impression marking. We also devised a complex computer-based program to detect erratic marking and identify scripts that needed to be remarked by experienced examiners. The outcome of these changes meant much more reliable marking for the candidates and a marked reduction in the number of successful appeals.

I was also involved with making Religious Studies an open-book examination, a revolutionary idea in the early 80s. This improved the examining of the subject by reducing the rote-memory element. The downside of this sensible development was that there was more scope for cheating in this subject that any other!

One of the highlights of my period as Senior Subject Officer was the decision to release me from my official duties for a 12-month period to design syllabuses for the new AS-level subject of Liberal Studies. This project was something I was passionate about and found very rewarding. I did this working from home with a small supportive group of five monitoring my work on a regular basis. The revolutionary nature of the subject with a syllabus framed as questions rather than statements, a project work requirement, and examinations giving no marks for factual knowledge meant that all the teachers and the entire candidature wanted to attend seminars to make sure they understood the aims of the subject. The seminars provided a platform to answer their many questions and to reassure them generally in what was a radical new direction for teaching and examining in Hong Kong.

Looking back, it was a real privilege to work for the Authority and to have the opportunity to make a worthwhile contribution to education in Hong Kong.
Mr Rex King
Deputy Secretary General (1992 – 1996)
Mr Rex King
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