Please select your location of interest:

Different Types of Schools in Hong Kong: Private School, EMI School, & More
Home > News > Are Academic Grades Still an Accurate Predictor of Success in Today's World?
With over 7.5 million residents in an 1104 square-kilometre territory, Hong Kong is one of the world's most densely populated places. Its financial success as one of Asia's global financial hubs and reputation as a developed city requires talented and educated people to lead future economic growth and entrepreneurship development. Education remains a top priority of the government and its people.

For many in Hong Kong, there exists a predilection toward achieving academic success as it is seen as a good indicator of career success. However, are academic grades still an accurate predictor of students' success in today's modern world? This article takes a stab at answering this controversial question.


How important are academic grades in Hong Kong?

Academic grades are valued highly in Hong Kong society. Due to the high population density and a competitive economy, it is a pragmatic consideration.

The city's knowledge-based key industries (financial services, tourism, trading and logistics) drive Hong Kong's economic growth and underline the importance of a well-educated population that can readily adapt to global changes. As a worldwide exchange centre, Hong Kong attracts foreign talents who work in this fast-moving metropolis. While the pandemic may have dampened this demand slightly, the Hong Kong government has also acknowledged that on its own, Hong Kong is unable to meet the needs of its key industries merely by drawing on its local talent pool.

Therefore, the government's focus on education to increase its local talent pool and attract foreign talent results in two outcomes. One, an emphasis on academic-oriented education, and two, intense competition amongst the locals and foreign talents for highly-paid, highly skilled jobs.

For Hong Kong students in local schools, an exam determines whether they attend university after a six-year secondary education program. Known as the Hong Kong Diploma of Secondary Education Examination (HKDSE), their grades decide whether they can continue on to tertiary education. This high-stakes exam sees many competing for limited spaces at local universities. Many parents send their children to tuition centres after school, also known as cram schools since the centres have tutors who will work with the students for long, gruelling hours to improve their results. Celebrity tutors with faces plastered on buses signify that the tuition industry is worth millions and recognises how vital academic grades are in the city.

Are academic grades still an important indicator of success?

The Internet has rendered information freely available to anyone who wants to learn. So what makes a candidate stand out? It's the soft skills such as communication, creativity, and critical thinking that matter, as reported in a World Economic Forum report in 2020. You cannot develop these skills through classroom learning alone. A well-rounded curriculum that encourages students to learn and explore outside the textbook while also teaching digital literacy skills is essential.

That said, hard skills which require technical knowledge are still crucial as certain professions require long hours of thorough learning and application. Teachers, doctors, and lawyers require good grades for admissions as the course requirements and content require one to show an aptitude for hard work and memorization. A doctor that has to look online to diagnose a patient would not inspire much confidence

Executive-level jobs in major firms often require applicants to have a basic university degree. That's a practical consideration for employers as it ensures that the candidate possesses the basic communication skills and work ethic that is often honed in university. Prospective employers are looking for someone who can adapt quickly, work under pressure both solo and in a team, and require little field training, which costs employers time and money.

Lastly, studying for exams and doing well for them is a long process. Even the brightest students need to display a solid work ethic and discipline to ace their exams. Therefore, a student's academic grades can reflect how hard they are willing to work and the amount of motivation they have to achieve high grades.


Are academic grades the be-all and end-all to life success?

As the McKinsey Global Institute reports, 51% of jobs will be susceptible to automation. These activities span jobs across industries and skill levels. Automation has forced us to redefine what it means to be highly skilled. Having robots automate manual tasks would free humans to be more creative and think of new solutions to solve global issues. How then are our current education systems encouraging innovation?

The pandemic remains a stark reminder that remaining adaptable and flexible is what will enable survival in the world today. Young people need to be taught adaptability: how to pivot fast, stretch to find creative solutions, and seek growth opportunities. Having these skills to adapt will have more doors open to them.

A traditional school curriculum may not be able to provide the skills and knowledge required in the workforce anymore.

Many entrepreneurs, innovators and those in creative industries build their success by breaking the mould. Classic examples of this phenomenon include Steve Jobs graduating high school with a 2.65 GPA or Bill Gates dropping out of college.

It is interesting to note also that academic success and outcomes in creative careers do not correlate. Studies show that many creative innovators usually choose to slack off if enrolled in uninteresting courses. Researchers found that as grades decreased, innovation tended to go up. This is because innovators tend to be intrinsically motivated by their thought processes. Unlike grades, which are an external validation, the most creative entrepreneurs are focused on problem-solving. This means that perhaps we are losing our most creative youths to the rigour of the education system if we overly stress academic success.

More than just academic success

While academic success can hint at certain positive qualities such as determination and persistence, it is not the be-all and end-all. Other factors are important. Besides, academic success can come as a result of privileged backgrounds. Having a tutor to study beside a student may eventually help in content memorisation for a paper grade. However, we cannot tell if this student will work well in teams, be able to articulate their thoughts clearly, or can be adaptable when the need arises. You need other kinds of learning besides cramming the books and different ways of encouraging and measuring that learning to achieve a well-rounded education that prepares the student for the future.

Sending your child to a school like Invictus Hong Kong, which provides a well-rounded education curriculum. The school offers a holistic approach from kindergarten to secondary, empowering learners by training their academic rigour and teaching skills they can use outside of the classroom.