The hated Territory-wide System Assessment has become the bogeyman of Hong Kong’s public school exams. However refined, its replacement – the Basic Competency Assessment – is unlikely to convince sceptical parents who are dead set against such tests. They are over focussing on the symptom, though, and are missing the forest for the trees. Perhaps they feel powerless to change the overall system, which relies on heavy drilling and high-pressure learning, and so pick on a single set of tests, which they can change. Trust, not tests, is the real issue with TSA There is nothing inherently wrong with using such tests to measure and compare the standards of schools. The complaint, however, is that many schools force students to drill for such tests to boost their own standing. But given the wide exposure and how politicised the tests have become, it’s hard to believe too many schools still dare to drill students for them. Nevertheless, the anti-TSA group, Parents United of Hong Kong, claims it has received complaints from parents that more than 100 schools were still engaged in drilling pupils in the lead-up to this year’s tests. “Even if there was only one school drilling, it would be a problem,” a leader of the group said. This sounds more like fanaticism than reasonable opposition. If the problem is with long study hours and heavy workload, then TSA/BCA is only one of many contributors, and not even the main culprits. According to the Hong Kong Research Association, a student spends an average of 62 hours per week on studying. This includes at least six hours at school, more than five hours on homework and attending private classes and other extracurricular activities each day. A survey by the Asian Development Bank found that 85 per cent of our secondary school students attended at least one private tutorial class, but usually more. If these also include extracurricular lessons such as those for piano, violin and ballet, it’s above 90 per cent. To beat student stress, Hong Kong should support its schools, not punish them So, who is drilling our students? Well, schools and teachers play a part. But it seems the primary responsibility rests on the parents. Some parents may be opposed to the heavy pressure, but feel they have no choice once their children are in the system and have to compete in it. Others – and these are by no means in the minority – actually welcome an academically challenging education for their children. Forcing the government to scrap TSA/BCA is the easy part. The problem will not go away.