Exam regime for Hong Kong’s primary school children is too oppressive

The TSA exam still has its merits. But we need to discourage drilling. The government and schools need to seriously consider how to conduct the exam in a less oppressive way.

PUBLISHED : Friday, 04 December, 2015, 10:24pm
UPDATED : Friday, 04 December, 2015, 10:24pm

The government appears to have underestimated the negative sentiment over the much-criticised examination for primary pupils. The campaign initiated by some parents to scrap the Territory-wide System Assessment (TSA) is gaining even wider support after education minister Eddie Ng Hak-kim brushed aside the call. Some parents have threatened to boycott classes or have asked their children to give wrong answers in the exam to defeat the purpose of the assessment.

The Education Bureau has no choice but to head off the escalating pressure with an overhaul. Speaking in a Legislative Council public hearing on the controversy, Undersecretary for Education Kevin Yeung Yun-hung said he would not rule out major adjustments to the exam. While he would not say if the exam would be scrapped ultimately, options such as testing pupils less frequently or randomly are on the cards.

The acknowledgment that the exam had operational issues is a positive step to address the concerns of parents and schools. But it has taken too long for officials to signal the need for a change. The problem of pupils being over-drilled was well known before parents and teachers aired grievances at the Legco hearing. Schools representatives spoke of the need to drill pupils, saying that the government would put pressure on schools if their pupils did not perform well in the exam.

When there is an exam, there is pressure. The question is whether the exam is justified. TSA has its merits in that it can help identify room for improvement in teaching and learning. The problem lies with over-drilling. The phenomenon owes much to the competitive education system in Hong Kong. Increasingly, parents put pressure on children at an early stage, such as filling their daily schedules with a wealth of tuition and extracurricular activities. They do so with a view to building up an impressive portfolio for school admission. But the children are sadly denied the joy of learning.

The story told by a Primary Three pupil at the Legco hearing should be food for thought for everyone. He asked why he could not afford time to play every day when the government urged everyone to do more sports to stay healthy. Scrapping the exam will only take away the opportunity to assess whether teaching and learning are on the right track. The exam still has its merits. But we need to discourage drilling. The government and schools need to seriously consider how to conduct the exam in a less oppressive way.