Hong Kong education minister says controversial TSA exam could return next year

Eddie Ng Hak-kim also pledges an easier test but parents remain sceptical

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 04 February, 2016, 11:39pm
UPDATED : Friday, 05 February, 2016, 2:44am

A controversial test that critics claim has resulted in mounting pressure on primary schoolchildren is likely to be resumed as early as next year, with officials promising it will become easier.

The news came after a committee tasked by the government to review the Primary Three Territory-wide System Assessment submitted its recommendations to the Education Bureau yesterday. But parents said the suggestions did not address the problem of excessive drilling.

As one of the recommendations, the tests would be suspended for the rest of this year.

READ MORE: TSA cheat sheet: what you need to know about the review of Hong Kong’s controversial city-wide exams

Instead, some 50 local primary schools, or about 10 per cent of the total number in the city, would be invited to take a revised and simpler assessment under a trial scheme. The mix of participants would be representative of schools from different districts, ranging from large to small-scale enrolments. Based on the results of this year’s trial, next year’s TSA would likely resume, the committee said.

Other recommendations included making the tests less demanding. For example, students would only need to do two – instead of the previous three – pieces in the reading test for Chinese language. The pieces would also be shorter, with no more than 1,200 characters.

Also, the number of questions for the mathematics paper would be reduced by about 20 per cent.

The implementation arrangement and details were to be finalised in two to three weeks.

Other schools could also volunteer to take part if they so desired. And parents who did not want their children to sit for the examination could approach their schools should the schools agree to take part in the trial test.

Dr Tong Chong-sze, secretary general of the Hong Kong Examinations and Assessment Authority, said his body would invite some 50 schools of a relatively larger scale in different districts to join the trial.

Tong said the trial would be conducted “on a voluntary basis”. He would not speculate on the likely response of the schools at this stage. “But if there are too few schools participating, the results would not be representative,” he said. “So, we shall try to have about 50 schools to do the trial in any case.”

When asked by reporters whether parents could withdraw their children from the assessment, education minister Eddie Ng Ha-kim did not reply directly and instead encouraged parents to voice such concerns by communicating directly with their children’s respective schools.

While Ng said he supported the recommendations in principle, some parents found the proposed changes unacceptable.

Ivy Ho Shuk-yi, a mother of two, believed the recommendations did not address excessive drilling.

READ MORE: TSA row provides an opportunity to reshape Hong Kong’s learning environment

“We are still very worried. It’s just small changes to the format, such as the type of questions,” she said. “As long as there is an assessment, there will be a pull to make schools train better.”

Bergman Li, a father of two, echoed Ho’s sentiments. “I think the changes are pointless. During my time, there’s no such tests conducted to gauge students’ standards,” he said. “I believe that having assessors come in to monitor classes is sufficient and at the same time stress-free.”

Education sector lawmaker Ip Kin-yuen said: “It also shows the government has no sincerity in listening to the parents. It is absurd and also illogical to talk about resuming TSA next year even before the try-out is done.”

He called on the government to first suspend the TSA, pending a full review of the system and a public consultation.

READ MORE: Parents who spend hours preparing children for Hong Kong TSA exams have ‘herd mentality’, education expert says

Leung Siu-tong of the Hong Kong Aided Primary School Heads Association said the proposed arrangement should be acceptable. He was satisfied it could ease the pressure students felt.

TSA Concern Group spokeswoman Rachel Tong Chung-yee rejected the committee report as unacceptable. Separately, the Professional Teachers Union urged members not to help with examination papers.

Introduced in 2004, the TSA was designed to gauge students’ attainment of basic competencies so as to allow schools and teachers to enhance their plans for learning and teaching.

But some parents said the assessment was useless, claiming students were wasting time practising how to do well on the test instead of learning things and that it added extra pressure on students.