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Hong Kong schools

Revamped tests extended to all Hong Kong primary schools

Education minister rejects fears that new exam is a repackaging of the TSA, which was criticised for putting too much pressure on students

PUBLISHED : Monday, 23 January, 2017, 11:21pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 21 March, 2017, 2:43pm

Hong Kong’s education minister has announced plans to put all primary school students through a new competence exam to replace the unpopular Territory-wide System Assessment (TSA), dismissing concerns that it will be a repackaging of the same test.

Secretary for Education Eddie Ng Hak-kim on Monday revealed plans to extend the “basic competency assessment research study” to all primary schools this year, following a trial run at select schools last year to replace the TSA, which is widely detested because of the drilling pressure it puts on pupils.

The Education Bureau has yet to decide whether Primary Three students should also take the new test in 2018.

“The basic competency assessment research study is not a ‘resumption’ of the previous TSA, but embodies the professional recommendations put forward by [a committee tasked by the government to review the assessment],” Ng said.

He explained that the trial, which featured simpler and shorter exam papers, conducted at just 56 schools last year in place of the usual citywide TSA, eliminated the issue of overdrilling, while improving learning and teaching.

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Ng said the extension of the trial to all primary schools this year would “allow more schools to participate and understand the new initiatives” and provide the bureau with “more comprehensive feedback to continue to review and enhance the arrangements for TSA”.

Ng also announced that government-funded schools would take the lead in not buying supplementary exercise books to prepare for the TSA.

When asked whether the new competence test would be compulsory, Ng did not have a direct answer: “If schools have special difficulties, they can look for our regional colleagues to figure out what the problem is … This problem is part of the daily teaching and learning procedure, so we let the school decide, and cannot just say whether the school can opt to take the test or not.”

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On whether students could ask to skip the assessment, Ng said: “If students have special personal reasons [to not go to school], we let schools decide.”

Education sector lawmaker Ip Kin-yuen dismissed the new test as just a “play on words”.

“I see no difference between this and resuming [a simpler version] of TSA,” he said, warning that the government’s proposal would not reduce pressure on students by eliminating drilling.

He said this stemmed from the bureau using the test to rank schools, citing feedback from several principals. The bureau has repeatedly denied such claims.

The legislator suggested the bureau could be using the term “research study” for this year so as to avoid alarming parents.

A concern group called the Hong Kong Parents League for Education Renovation said in a Facebook post: “The secretary has turned a deaf ear to the majority of parents and neglected children’s physical, mental and spiritual well-being.”

The group did not rule out protest action, such as organising a boycott of the new test.