Workload and poor performance putting on the pressure Poor academic performance and heavy workload are causing distress among the majority of senior primary pupils, according to a survey. The study, by Education Policy Concern Organisation (EPCO) and Association of Hong Kong Student Guidance Professional (Primary School), found that 75.8 per cent of students were concerned about performing poorly in school. Just over 73 per cent said they felt down when overloaded with tests and exams and 66 per cent said too much homework distressed them. The survey, conducted in November and December, involved interviews with 1,200 students in Primary Four to Six from 20 schools. Mervyn Cheung Man-ping, chairman of the EPCO, blamed the threat of school closures for creating pressure on students in the form of more tests and exercises. 'A school has to perform well and maintain a good reputation to prevent parents from switching to other schools, and this means more work and intensive training for students,' he said. Mr Cheung added that students had to endure extra workload to boost performance in external assessments, such as the Territory-wide System Assessment (TSA), which the Education and Manpower Bureau (EMB) used to measure the quality of school education. The EMB responded that the decision to close schools did not hinge on academic performance, and that results of the TSA would not be used to rank students or schools. It also recommended that schools diversify the mode of assessment, going beyond written tests and exams to include discussions, interviews and presentations. But Mr Cheung said the EMB was imposing grade-oriented assessment criteria. 'Even when doing projects or presentations, achieving good grades is most important. Success and failure in our education system have been determined by rigid quantitative benchmarks. Qualitative feedback should carry more weight,' he said. Professor Magdalena Mok Mo-ching, principal lecturer in the Department of Educational Psychology, Counselling and Learning Needs at the Hong Kong Institute of Education, said reforms of the assessment mechanism were under way. 'Since learning-oriented assessment has been introduced, we're moving from a focus on exams to daily assessment that stresses giving feedback to students and fostering in them the curiosity to explore. But it will take time before reforms sink in more schools across the territory,' she said. Professor Mok added that successful reforms required a concerted effort. 'Parents have to understand that grades aren't the most important criterion in assessment, and teachers and heads of schools should adopt strategies enabling effective assessment and learning,' she said.