28 October 2016
The Territory-wide System Assessment has become a major source of anxiety for students as well as their parents and teachers. Photo: CNSA
The Territory-wide System Assessment has become a major source of anxiety for students as well as their parents and teachers. Photo: CNSA

TSA has become a monster that swallows our kids

In late June the Hong Kong Professional Teachers’ Union (HKPTU) published the results of their latest opinion poll on the Territory-wide System Assessment (TSA).

According to the survey, around 70 percent of the teachers believed students have to undergo a lot of exercises and drills to prepare for the TSA test, while more than 65 percent said the TSA test should be abolished.

However, much to the surprise of the education sector, two days after the release of the poll results, Secretary for Education Eddie Ng Hak-kim publicly said most teachers actually welcome the test, and even said it is both difficult and unnecessary to prepare students for the TSA test through drills.

What Secretary Ng said is the complete opposite of what is actually happening in our schools, and it seems he is completely out of touch with reality.

First suggested back in 2000 by the Education Commission, the TSA is a standardized and compulsory test for all primary and secondary school students in Hong Kong.

As an alternative measure to monitor the overall academic levels of students across the territory after the abolition of the Hong Kong Academic Aptitude Test, the TSA was introduced in 2004, under which all primary 3, primary 6 and secondary 3 students have to sit for a test to assess their proficiency in Chinese, English and Math.

The TSA is supposed to be a low-risk assessment that provides a benchmark against which schools can measure the strengths and weaknesses of their students so that teachers can improve their standard accordingly, not something that decides a student’s future.

However, 11 years after it was first introduced, the test has become a major source of anxiety for parents, school principals, teachers and students.

Top officials of the Education Bureau tend to praise or disparage the schools they visit based almost entirely on their TSA test results.

Teachers and students are now facing enormous pressure as the TSA data is open to abuse by officials of the Education Bureau regardless of the varying conditions in schools and the different backgrounds of students. Some teachers even suspect the TSA results are being secretly used as a reference by the Education Bureau for the distribution of secondary one places.

As we all know, the education needs and learning capacity of students vary greatly from one another, and they should be allowed to learn at their own pace.

Unfortunately, the TSA simply establishes a set of uniform and rigorous standards of academic achievement based on which students as early as primary 3 are measured and assessed, and schools are being held accountable for the test results of their students.

As a result, schools principals and teachers no longer see the TSA as a low-risk assessment tool like it was initially intended to be. TSA drills have increasingly become part of the daily curriculum of many primary and secondary schools.

According to the opinion poll published by the HKPTU, around 70 percent of the teachers admitted that the TSA requirements are increasingly dictating the way school subjects are taught and the way students are tested in school exams.

Some 69 percent of the teachers said they often have to hold extra lessons just to prepare students for the TSA test. Parents too are worried about their children’s TSA results and many are getting their kids do extra exercises at home.

When I was a kid, I was also busy with studying and had to sit for various tests at school. However, as far as across-the-board school tests are concerned I only needed to sit for one when I was in primary 6.

But students these days have to sit for several Internal Examinations for the purpose of Secondary School Places Allocation (SSPA) throughout their primary 5 and 6 years, as well as the Pre-Secondary One Hong Kong Attainment Test in primary 6, not to mention the TSA tests in primary 3 and primary 6 which pile on the pressure.

All these tests not only put our students under enormous stress but also turn daily school learning into a nightmare for them. This is definitely not what we want for our children’s education.

The HKPTU’s demand for the abolition of the TSA is in fact based on facts and genuine opinions from teachers.

I hereby urge the Education Bureau to face the reality and adjust its policy right away in order to save our children!

The article first appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on July 2.

Translation by Alan Lee

[Chinese version 中文版]

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Legislative Council member from the education sector

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