A simple answer to the angst over Hong Kong's TSA tests: ban schools from drilling students
We politicise everything in Hong Kong. So it's predictable that political parties are jumping on the bandwagon against the Territory-wide System Assessment, the much-hated standard test that has kept our children awake at night studying.
For a long time, it was angry parents versus education bureaucrats. Now, it's the pan-democrats against the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong. The latest news has the Primary Four daughter of the DAB's deputy spokesman Danny Chan Chung-cheung speaking in the legislature in support of the test. She said the tests made her happy, which was hard to believe. Her claims were an anomaly as nearly all 130 people who appeared at the Legco hearing last week criticised the assessment and wanted it scrapped. After much dithering, Chan admitted he wrote the script for her daughter to read in public.
READ MORE: Student 'happy' to take TSA exam? Hong Kong lawmakers trade political jabs over testimony at Legco hearing
As is usually the case, once you have politicians wringing their hands, the real issues disappear from view amid the sound bites and bickering.
Introduced in 2004, the tests aim to assess Primary Three and Six, and Form Three pupils in Chinese, English and maths. The Education Bureau uses the results to benchmark schools, not students. Their results don't affect primary students when they apply to secondary schools. Yet parents and schools persist in drilling young pupils for the tests.
I would argue it's the fault of schools and parents who force children to drill for the tests when the bureau has advised them not to. You have similar tests for the International Baccalaureate, the programme now used by most international schools in Hong Kong.
These have not been controversial because most international schools discourage students from preparing for the tests, advising instead that they should get plenty of sleep and not to worry too much.
The problem with government and aided schools is that many feel under pressure for being benchmarked, and so force their students to perform well - not for themselves, but for their schools.
There is nothing wrong with benchmarking, though. The solution is simple: disallow schools from drilling pupils for TSA tests and penalise those that do.