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Hong Kong schools

TSA replacement exams go ahead despite rain warnings, but students still boycott

Principal says schools ‘caught between some parents and the Education Bureau’ over controversial tests

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 13 June, 2017, 4:12pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 14 June, 2017, 11:03pm

Thousands of Primary Three pupils arrived at school on Tuesday morning to take a new, revised version of the controversial Territory-wide System Assessment (TSA) exam.

But some parents let their children sit out the new test, called the Basic Competency Assessment (BCA), boycotting a system that some see as putting too much pressure on young students.

At Grantham College of Education Past Students’ Association Whampoa Primary School, 111 out of 141 Primary Three pupils, aged nine or 10, sat the 170-minute exam, including 85 minutes on the test and the remainder for a break, paper distribution and collection.

Hong Kong educators say revised TSA led to less drilling, calling for parents to give test a chance

Some 20 pupils turned up at school but boycotted the exam. Another three boycotters did not go to school as their parents claimed they were ill, and seven were absent for other reasons.

The red rainstorm warningwas issued at 8.45am, when most pupils at morning- or whole day-session primary schools had already arrived at school, so the Chinese written exam of the BCA carried on.

All afternoon schools were suspended, and the tests at those schools will be postponed to Friday afternoon.

I didn’t want to attend the exam because my mother would make me do a lot of exercises
Lam Sen-ip, pupil, 9

Some 500 primary schools will take part in the tests this week. The English and maths written exams will take place on Wednesday.

The TSA was an exam taken by Primary Three pupils in subjects such as Chinese, English and maths. It has long been criticised for causing students undue stress.

Although a review committee last year reduced the difficulty of the tests, and the name has changed, many parents still reported drilling in schools and called for a boycott.

Lam Sen-ip, one of the 18 boycotters who went to Whampoa, said he went to the school library and then the computer room after a morning reading session.

“I feel relaxed,” the nine-year-old said. “I didn’t want to attend the exam because my mother would make me do a lot of exercises.”

The school also gave exercises for the exam twice in a week, he added.

He said his mother had allowed him to boycott.

Wu Hoi-shan, a Chinese teacher for Primary Three classes at the school, said many pupils looked tired when they reached the test’s last 10 to 15 minutes.

“At that time I was thinking it had been really tough for these children to take an exam for such a long time,” Wu said.

She said although the revised version had been less difficult, the results would not come out until a year later, which would be less useful than school-based exams that provide scores more quickly.

School-based exams also normally only take about 50 minutes, she added.

We are caught between some parents and the Education Bureau
Lee Yiu-po, school principal

School principal Lee Yiu-po said he personally did not support scrapping the TSA as a whole because he found the test results useful in assessing and improving teaching.

“We are caught between some parents and the Education Bureau,” Lee said. “We had no choice but to allow parents to make their own decisions.”

Three pupils who sat the exam said the test was overall easier than many school-based exams.

Hung Wai-shing, principal of SKH Tin Shui Wai Ling Oi Primary School and a major supporter of the revised exams, said the school never received any requests to skip the test or any complaints about homework and exercises.

Hung claimed the tests would not incentivise drilling because the results would not be used to rank schools.

But Eric Cheung Sze-yin, a member of anti-TSA group Parents United of Hong Kong, said some in the group spoke of schools being summoned to official meetings and threatened with fewer resources if they did not perform well on the exams. But Cheung declined to disclose the names of the schools.

He said he had let his nine-year-old daughter boycott the test after discussing it with her.

Some 500 primary schools are taking part in the tests this week.