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Ditch ‘stressful’ competency exams for 8-year-old pupils once and for all, Hong Kong parents demand

Unhappiness with the government’s standardised tests has raged for years and parents are not mollified even after the exam was overhauled two years ago

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 07 February, 2018, 8:04pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 08 February, 2018, 8:09am

Parents and lawmakers on Wednesday pressed the government to scrap a competency test notorious for stressing out Primary Three pupils and warned that they would “escalate actions” if their demands were not met, though they stopped short of saying they would boycott the assessment.

The Basic Competency Assessment to gauge pupils’ standards of Chinese, English and Maths is scheduled for May and June, but a government-appointed committee is expected to recommend next week if the unpopular test should continue, while Secretary for Education Kevin Yeung Yun-hung said a decision would be made by next month.

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Concern group Parents United of Hong Kong and education lawmaker Ip Kin-yuen held a press conference to announce they were petitioning the government to cancel this year’s BCA and instead conduct discussions on whether to continue with the test in the long run.

It was signed by 29 lawmakers from across the political spectrum, including five pro-establishment legislators such as Regina Ip Lau Suk-yee of the New People’s Party and Abraham Razack of the ­Business and Professionals ­Alliance.

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Unhappiness towards the government’s standardised tests has raged for years, forcing it to revise the previous Territory-wide System Assessment (TSA) and offer the BCA last year, which it said had fewer and easier questions that pupils had to answer in a given time.

But older pupils in Primary Six and Form Three continued to sit for the TSA.

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Last year, even with the revised test, parents of younger pupils said little had changed and children were still under immense pressure to perform. While the test results are supposed to be confidential, the popular belief is that results data is used to compare schools and measure how well they are doing academically, which the Education Bureau has denied.

On Wednesday, parents at the meeting said that if the BCA still took place this year, there should be tweaks, for instance, to not identify schools on test scripts, or to only get a random sample of pupils to take the exam.

Annie Cheung Yim-shuen, a spokeswoman for Parents United, said she was glad that political parties of different stripes had set aside their differences to support an important issue.

“If the test really has to be resumed, can the Education Bureau ensure that it will not have the results of specific schools and schools not have the reports of the assessment?” she asked.

Democratic Party lawmaker Ted Hui Chi-fung, who has two young children aged four and six, said he learned that a lot of schools had still been drilling pupils, with children doing homework until right before bedtime.

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The parents and Ip Kin-yuen also said they would be organising a protest at Civic Square on Sunday.

While Ip said the group would “escalate actions” if the government did not remove the motivation that schools had to drill pupils, parents said it was too early to say if they would get their children to boycott the test.

A similar petition launched last year was signed by 36 lawmakers, including eight pro-establishment ones.

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Lawmaker Priscilla Leung Mei-fun from the pro-Beijing Business and Professionals Alliance who signed last year’s petition, said she did not sign this year’s appeal as the committee had yet to announce its recommendations.

Like Leung, Michael Tien Puk-sun of the pro-Beijing Roundtable political party withheld his support for the petition this year as he said his stance was always to have the test but for children to do it anonymously. This would give educators a sense of the cohort’s aptitude without putting children under undue pressure.

He said he was confident that the government would from this year conduct anonymous testing as it would face a lot of political pressure otherwise.