Hong Kong’s TSA tests fail to reflect key attributes of a true education

PUBLISHED : Friday, 11 December, 2015, 5:12pm
UPDATED : Friday, 11 December, 2015, 5:12pm

As a student who has endured the local education system for nearly two decades, reading about the controversy surrounding Territory-wide System Assessment (TSA) exams for Primary Three students sparked a nostalgic reflection on how the actual “assessments” took place and the effectiveness of them to truly reflect the quality of a school.

To what extent can one evaluate the quality of teaching by observing one or two sessions of (usually intensely staged) classroom interaction?

Are examination grades a true reflection of the ability of a teacher to teach, or a demonstration of the relationship between teachers and their students, or an indication of a healthy and vibrant learning environment?

Responding to the parents who argue that introducing TSA exams to primary school children would inevitably result in endless drilling exercises and take away the “happiness of learning” from young students, the Secretary for Education Eddie Ng Hak-kim reassures us that TSA is “just an assessment, not an exam”, and that it has nothing to do with the ranking of individual students or their advancement into secondary schools. Yet this statement only reflects how unrealistic these assessments are in playing a part to actualise quality education.

According to the website of the Hong Kong Examinations and Assessment Authority, these assessments are meant to only assess the strengths and weaknesses of students, to reflect upon the quality of teaching, and finally contribute to the rankings of each school. The intention of the assessments is to improve the quality of education, which should implicitly mean that the authorities are doing this with the best interests of our future generations in mind.

Yet TSA examinations focus only on “core subjects” and test students on their reading, writing, and arithmetic skills – there is hardly any assessment on other aspects of child development, such as aesthetic intelligence or emotional intelligence. The imbalance in the assessment framework highlights the authorities’ lack of understanding of true education, and ultimately raises questions about the true meaning of conducting these assessments.

While it is important to acquire basic academic intelligence, shouldn’t the education system be focused on how to help children discover the excitement of knowledge, the power of being curious and the importance of virtues?

Perhaps the authorities should address the lack of assessment of the other pillars that define a quality education in TSA examination before they market it under their glamorous agenda.

Stephanie Tang, Kennedy Town