A test that education officials are still failing
Repackaging the Territory-wide System Assessment under a different name does not solve the core problem – excessive pressure on pupils and schools
When a government policy gets a thumbs down from the people, officials are expected to conduct a serious and thorough review. But in the case of the Territory-wide System Assessment (TSA) for primary school pupils, education minister Eddie Ng Hak-kim apparently thinks he can get away with some cosmetic changes to the much-criticised exam. The Education Bureau has yet to convince parents how an easier version of the test, named Basic Competence Assessment (BCA), is going to make a difference. More confusingly, it remains unclear whether schools and parents can opt out of the test. Speaking at a Legislative Council meeting, Ng described the new exam as a school activity. He would not be drawn on whether the test was compulsory, saying parents who do not want to join would have to give an explanation to school principals, and that it would be up to the principals to handle the matter. The response will not appease parents upset by the over-drilling of pupils for the exam. It leaves the impression that individual schools can decide for themselves how, and to what extent, they will prepare pupils for the test.
Unlike other general exams that are used to determine admission or promotion of pupils, the TSA is meant to be a tool to identify room for improvements in teaching. But it was suspended after parents complained that children as young as eight were being drilled for the exam. Teachers and schools put the blame on the government, saying there was enormous pressure to ensure their pupils were competitive.
The TSA has it merits, in that it gives schools feedback on the quality of teaching. But it will take more than a repackaging of the test to address the underlying problems. Making the test easier can help ease the pressure. But that leaves open the question of whether the assessment will still be meaningful. The principle is to effectively assess academic competence without putting too much pressure on schools and children. Unless the revamped exam is implemented with such rationale, it may snowball into an even bigger political controversy for the next administration.