What does it say about our education system when schoolchildren are used as a tool to evaluate the performance of schools?
Even more troubling is the idea that schools are using the evaluation system, known as Territory-wide System Assessment (TSA), to win public funding or ensure their survival by maintaining a viable enrolment.
Now, a proposed reform intended to “raise teaching quality” is making it even tougher for students with its increased focus on preparation.
Parents are rightly outraged at this unreasonable burden on their children.
An online campaign to stop the test for Primary 3 pupils has gone viral.
But on Monday, Secretary for Education Eddie Ng said it’s all a misunderstanding.
He said the test is not that difficult and scrapping it would be a step backwards.
He defended it, saying it’s a “really good tool” after hearing what the schools have to say.
Obviously, that’s what they want him to hear.
The fact is the test has nothing to do with education but schoolchildren have to take it to boost the standing of their schools.
Why is there such a need to gather school performance data in this way? Is the government so bereft of ideas?
Our education system has had this problem for decades since the colonial administration introduced free education in primary and secondary schools to qualified students.
As a result, more than 400 primary schools, or 80 percent of the total, receive government subsidies, even though they may have their own source of funding.
These include schools run by the Anglican Church, the Hong Kong Catholic diocese, the Tung Wah Group of Hospitals and other charities.
These “sponsors” are involved in operational and business planning but most of the money comes from the government.
That gives the government effective control of these schools.
Sure, government support is a form of public service but education is a long-term investment for parents.
The government’s overarching role, through the TSA, for instance, does more harm than good.
There has to be a way for the government to assess student performance but it has to be about progress in the classroom.
This allows policymakers and school administrators to respond to their needs.
The problem comes when the process is used to buttress school operations and management.
A retired primary school teacher wrote on his Facebook page that the Education Bureau wants to use the TSA results to decide which schools should be closed amid pressure to cut public spending on education given Hong Kong’s falling birth rates.
That makes it easier to see why government-funded schools are making sure their students come prepared for the test. This is unacceptable to parents who object to schools allocating their resources to training for the exam.
The government has yet to convince them that the TSA benefits their children and that in the face of their objections, it will consider other options.
Meanwhile, the schools should start thinking about a professional evaluation system that does not rely on students sitting a unified examination.
Also, they need to address the concerns of other schools which don’t put too much emphasis on TSA results.
All this will require a comprehensive review of our education policy, especially on subsidised schools.
The government could start by giving sponsoring entities a more direct role in running their schools and encouraging a more meaningful competition, so that parents can have better choices for their children’s education.
A more market-driven education policy will help schools improve themselves without relying on questionable assessment methods.
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