Revised TSA still stressful for Hong Kong pupils and teachers, but education minister says drilling reduced ‘drastically’
First day of assessment saw Primary Three pupils at about 500 schools complete three written Chinese papers, with English and maths exams on Wednesday
As Primary Three pupils on Tuesday tackled a Chinese exam in a citywide competency test, a survey of teachers found that despite tweaks it continued to be a stressful experience for all involved.
At SKH Tin Shui Wai Ling Oi Primary School, Li Kam-hin, 10, said he had been consumed the past few weeks with revising for the Territory-wide System Assessment (TSA) and the school’s own internal exams.
His fellow pupil, Lucy Xiao Ying-han, described the composition task entailing an essay and letter or invitation as challenging.
“I didn’t know how to write some of the words,” the nine-year-old girl said.
Both children were among the school’s 113 Primary Three pupils who took the three written papers in Chinese on Tuesday. On Wednesday, they will complete the English and maths papers.
The TSA gauges youngsters’ abilities in different subjects, but has been blamed for stressing pupils out as teachers drill them to do well.
After years of campaigning from parents and educators for the exam to be scrapped, the Education Bureau announced this year that only one in 10 pupils at about 500 local primary schools – each randomly selected – would need to take the TSA. In addition, the bureau would not issue reports on schools’ performance.
However, should a school opt for all its pupils to sit for the exam, it would give them a report on the youngsters’ overall performance.
Subsequently, about 230 or so, including SKH Tin Shui Wai Ling Oi Primary School, decided to get all their Primary Three pupils to sit for the competency assessment.
Dr Elizabeth Loh Ka-yee, an assistant professor from the University of Hong Kong’s faculty of education, said the three written papers on Tuesday were on the whole suitable for testing pupils at the Primary Three level.
But Loh noted the task requiring youngsters to write an invitation card to their cousin for a science games day was a bit more difficult.
“Games days are quite common, but not all children would have attended a ‘science games day’, especially if their schools lack resources,” she said.
Later in the afternoon, the Professional Teachers’ Union released its recent survey of 509 primary-level schoolteachers: 41.1 per cent said the TSA had brought about “very high” or “high” levels of pressure on teachers and students.
For teachers in schools where the entire Primary Three cohort had to take the TSA, the figure rose to 47.2 per cent, compared with 34.6 per cent in schools that only had 10 per cent taking part in the tests.
As a whole, 27.5 per cent of teachers said their schools drilled pupils “a lot” or “quite a lot”. The figure went up to 30.5 per cent for schools with full TSA participation, compared with 25.4 per cent in those with 10 per cent taking part.
Education sector lawmaker Ip Kin-yuen, who is also the union’s vice-president, called the survey findings “disappointing”. He urged officials to consider cancelling the arrangement allowing schools to send all Primary Three pupils to take the TSA exam, or at least adopt a stricter monitoring system to reduce the phenomenon of drilling.
But Secretary for Education Kevin Yeung Yun-hung countered the motivation to drill had been “reduced drastically” and that authorities would glean more views about this year’s assessment through questionnaires and small group discussions.
Chow Ngo-kwan, director of SKH Tin Shui Wai Ling Oi’s Chinese panel, said it did not drill pupils for the TSA because “it only tests the most basic content in our classes”.
School principal Hung Wai-shing said no pupil had been absent for the exam, adding the school had been urging parents not to drill their children for it.
But Li and Xiao said teachers had given them exercises with a format resembling the TSA. Li also recalled studying for two hours over the weekend to prepare for the test to avoid disappointing his parents, whom he said believed taking the TSA would “drive him to study harder”.