Hong Kong’s TSA exam fails as a suitable test for young students

Education authorities, schools and teachers have an obligation to get the balance right between testing and the richness, depth and joy of learning

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 30 January, 2016, 1:52am
UPDATED : Saturday, 30 January, 2016, 1:52am

Exams are a necessary part of learning. Without them, there can be no qualification or step up to a higher level. But the paper nine-year-olds in public schools sit every June known as the Territory-wide System Assessment is less about advancing than comparing. Tens of thousands of parents have been calling for it to be scrapped, contending that it unnecessarily causes pressure and stress at too young an age and that the time spent in preparation could be better used. Authorities have at least acknowledged that there is a problem and appear willing to make changes.

They need to do so before the next exam. Of particular concern is the drilling that the children have to endure; in the months before they take the test, teachers spend many hours making them review past papers. The aim is to ensure answers are memorised in the hope they will come up in the questions on the final exam. This is for the benefit of the school, the objective being for results to provide a reference to determine how schools compare and whether there is a need for improvement.

There are surely other ways of finding educational shortfalls than having every Primary 3 student sit an exam. Similarly, time in the classroom can be used more productively than through memorisation of past exams. It is a formula students will encounter again and again throughout their schooling years, rote learning seemingly being prized more than critical thinking. Former Examinations and Assessment Authority director of development and education assessment, Thomas Cheung Kwong-yuen, is especially critical of the practice, believing that “you should use your own words to express your opinions”.

Exams, tests and quizzes are about assessing what has been learned. Preparation for them teaches important skills like time management, following directions and knowing when to eliminate certain answers among them. But excessive testing and drilling takes up valuable classroom time and robs children of the richness, depth and joy of learning. Education authorities, schools and teachers have an obligation to get the balance right.