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Stress levels high for Hong Kong’s Primary Three students because of controversial TSA exam, survey says

Most of parents polled described their children as feeling pressure related to the competency assessment that many want scrapped

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 14 June, 2018, 7:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 14 June, 2018, 1:38pm

Primary Three pupils and schools across Hong Kong wrapped up two days of a controversial exam, but calls to scrap it look set to persist after a survey showed many children still face high stress levels.

Pupils from some 500 subsidised primary schools in the city sat for the written English and maths papers of the Primary Three Territory-wide System Assessment (TSA) on Wednesday.

This year, the written papers were conducted in a new format: only one in 10 pupils randomly selected in each of the schools was required to participate. In addition, no reports on schools’ overall performance would be issued.

These changes came after years of campaigning from parents and educators for the tests to be abolished over the pressure exerted on pupils through drilling exercises from schools.

Belief is widespread that the bureau uses TSA data to rank schools. Officials deny this is so.

But the caveat was that schools could get the report if they enrolled the entire cohort – a choice about 230 schools made – raising concerns about pupils still being drilled in preparation.

The teacher collected the exercises before the end of class so that parents
Choi Ka-jun, father of Primary Three pupil

These worries were realised in a survey by concern groups Parents United and Talk Foundation.

A total of 62 per cent of 517 parents of Primary One to Primary Three pupils polled said their children faced “very high” or “high” levels of stress. A total of 54 per cent said this was “extremely related” or “related” to the TSA.

Choi Ka-jun, the father of a Primary Three pupil, claimed the school had been making his son do TSA exercises during classes.

“The teacher collected the exercises before the end of class so that parents [who do not question their children about their schoolwork] wouldn’t notice,” he said.

Choi added his son’s homework increased exponentially leading up to the TSA, with his son needing three hours a day to complete everything.

“I noticed one of his fingers swell [from holding a pen for too long],” the father said.

The survey also found an overwhelming 91 per cent of the parents “extremely agreed” or “agreed” that the TSA should be scrapped.

At Tsuen Wan Trade Association Primary School in Tsing Yi, Mandy Chen Yun-zhu and Cindy Zhang Yi-yi, both 9, said they felt a bit nervous before the TSA because their parents wanted them to perform well.

Chen studied for an hour the night before, while Zhang continued to do revision at home even after the school’s internal exams, which ended last week.

Principal Chow Kim-ho stressed the school did not drill its pupils for the TSA and had only given them a mock exam.

Hong Kong education minister says drilling reduced ‘drastically’ for revised TSA

Both pupils described the English reading paper as “quite difficult”.

“I couldn’t understand the article at all because the words were too difficult,” Zhang recalled, noting the maths paper was more manageable as she finished it with 16 minutes to spare.

Two English teachers described the English papers as suitable for testing Primary Three basic competency, while Dr Daricks Chan Wai-hong, head of Education University’s department of mathematics and information technology, said the maths paper was also of appropriate difficulty in assessing that level.