Hong Kong education chief says he pushed ahead with unpopular test though it would have been ‘very easy’ to scrap it
Outgoing secretary for education Eddie Ng says cancelling BCA would leave Primary Three students with no gauge of their competence till Primary Six
Hong Kong’s outgoing education chief Eddie Ng Hak-kim said it would have been “very easy” for him to cancel a much criticised competency test for schools, but he had not done so as he has to “answer to students and parents”.
Ng was referring to the recently concluded Primary Three Basic Competency Assessment (BCA), which is widely viewed as a rebranded version of the unpopular Territory-wide System Assessment (TSA).
“If I had cancelled the BCA, this year’s Primary Three students would have no gauge of their competence until Primary Six,” he said at a farewell media luncheon. He added that by then, it would be too late to help the pupils.
Students are subjected to drilling exercises in schools as part of the lead-up to the test, which critics say brings undue stress to children.
The BCA was originally designed to provide the government with data to review policies and equip schools with information about students’ academic competencies at the Primary Three, Six and Secondary Three levels.
After complaints surfaced of the papers being too tough, the government reviewed and simplified the test in hopes of eliminating the incentive to drill. But critics say the practice still exists in schools and have called for the BCA to be scrapped.
Looking back at his five years in office, Ng, whose approval rating regularly falls in the negative range, said he did not regret taking up the post, though he did lament that political interference had impeded his team from accomplishing as much as it could have.
As an example, Ng cited the heavily criticised “Belt and Road Initiative” scholarship scheme that was stalled amid opposition from both the pan-democratic and pro-establishment camps in the legislature.
The scheme aimed to offer up to 100 scholarships to top students from belt and road countries to study at Hong Kong universities, and for an equal number of local students to study in these countries. The plan was to use investment income generated by a proposed injection of HK$1 billion into the scholarship fund.
Opponents expressed concerns that this would affect funding for higher education for local students. The government decided to delay the plan until the next term of the Legislative Council.
With donations, the scheme has since been launched for Indonesia and will be extended to Malaysia and Thailand the next academic year.
Ng shared that after stepping down, he wants to fully recharge, exercise and read more books, including some he had bought but not had the time to read. After that, he intends to think of how he can serve Hong Kong society. While he did not directly answer whether he would do so in an official capacity, he said that such work would be mostly voluntary.
On claims that he had been travelling too frequently and that he was doing so for leisure, Ng said he had been “wronged”. He gave some examples of what he had achieved during these “exhausting trips”, including the recent increase in school places for Hong Kong residents in Shenzhen.