The multiyear protest against the Territory-wide System Assessment (TSA) has been a tremendous display of parents’ power. While some activist parents have not achieved their ultimate goal of having the Primary Three test cancelled, they have accomplished the next best thing.

Teachers and principals who still dare to talk about preparing pupils for the test, let alone doing it, can be expected to be taken out into the street and lynched by angry mobs.

The Education Bureau has promised to keep a close watch on how the revamped test – for competency in language and maths – is administered and crack down on any school that dares to subject students to excessive drilling.

And education sector lawmaker Ip Kin-yuen, who is vice-president of the Professional Teachers’ Union, has vowed to keep a close watch on the bureau’s monitoring of schools. Any letdown, he says, will be met with more protests.

Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor has expressed the wish that the controversy should now end. Let’s hope so because it has become farcical.

Only one in 10 Primary Three pupils will have to sit TSA exam

The way some members of the Parents’ Alliance concern group tell it, you might think some schools abduct children and lock them up to drill them with test questions before quietly letting them back home.

But I don’t blame paranoid parents. I am one myself. I blame our sick education culture.

General competency tests like TSA exist in many education systems, in Hong Kong and overseas. They are considered useful to gauge the performances of pupils and schools, and check for shortcomings.

For example, local and international schools that operate under the International Baccalaureate run competence tests regularly, and you rarely hear any parent complaining. My own experience with two children at an IB school is that families are told not to bother preparing for such tests.

Hong Kong schools and parents could be surveyed on excessive test drilling

But in what I consider to be an urban myth, many have come to believe that since the introduction of TSA in 2004, schools are being ranked by its results, though the bureau has consistently denied it. So schools drilled students and that provoked many parents.

But the bureau already has a good idea about the first-tier schools, the second-tier ones and the bottom feeders. It doesn’t need TSA for that.

Parents may have scored a pyrrhic victory; with or without TSA drilling, most local schools remain highly competitive and pressurised.