16 September 2019
Parents and school children oppose the territory-wide system assessment (TSA) scheme. Photo: HKEJ
Parents and school children oppose the territory-wide system assessment (TSA) scheme. Photo: HKEJ

Will TSA trigger a new wave of student protests?

The Leung Chun-ying administration is facing another crisis of confidence.

With the leader bogged down by low approval ratings, almost all his policies are creating more problems than benefits to the public. 

The uproar over the education bureau’s territory-wide system assessment (TSA) for primary school students, for example, is turning into a huge political bomb, four years after the students staged massive protests that led to the government scrapping its patriotic education program for primary and secondary schools.

The furor over TSA was not enough for our officials to come up with a fast resolution of the issue, leading to suspicions that they are not at all interested in solving the problem as they could afford to send their children to study abroad.

In the meantime, local students suffer from the government’s ever-changing education policies.

A group of parents of primary three students from Tai Po is planning to stage a class strike to dramatize their opposition to the TSA.

The mass action, should it push through, is another huge blow to the government’s education policy. Indeed, what could be a more forceful condemnation of a government policy than students and parents taking a radical move to oppose it?

The parents’ anger over TSA failed to push the government to immediately cancel the assessment scheme for primary three students this year. Instead, the government insisted it needs a professional review from experts before making any decision.

While Undersecretary for Education Kevin Yeung did not make any commitment on the cancellation of the TSA, he said the government can take a U-turn on the policy if it is proven that schools failed to take adequate steps to eliminate aggressive training approaches for the school children.

The official’s response came after hundreds of parents and their children on Sunday attended a Legislative Council special meeting, accusing the government of neglecting the plight of primary school children, who are forced to attend review classes in order to pass the grueling exams.

Two school children caught the media spotlight during the meeting. One is a primary three student surname Hung, while the other one is a primary four girl surnamed Chan.

Hung said in the meeting that he has no time to play as he needs to complete all the homework as well as TSA exercises after school.

While the government said children need only one hour for the exercise, Hung said he is not able to find enough time to achieve the goal. He urged the government to understand the real situation confronted by students.

On the other hand, Chan, who is the daughter of a pro-Beijing politician, told the meeting that she did not agree with suggestions that the TSA should be canceled, stressing that the TSA is an effective way to assess student performance across the board.

She also said she felt the TSA was quite easy and no special training was arranged by her school.

Chan said she was quite happy to have the TSA at school, and therefore, there is no need to cancel the assessment scheme.

Listening to the two children, you might think that they were talking about two different assessment schemes, but in fact they are referring to the same TSA.

The public should be aware that what Chan said in the meeting was prepared by her father, who is a senior member of the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong.

The little girl admitted that her speech followed a script prepared by her father. And given the fact that her father is from a pro-establishment party, one cannot help but think that he is using his daughter to hit back at the anti-TSA parents’ group.

In effect, the DAB used the Legco meeting to push its stand on the issue. Through the mouth of the child, the party maintained that the TSA should stay while urging schools to reduce the training period for students.

The government insists that the TSA is an effective way of assessing the students’ performance during various periods of their learning process.

But it is quite clear that the assessment scheme is putting a lot of pressure on the government-subsidized schools to maintain a good performance based on the TSA results.

The schools have no choice but to order their teachers to train their students very well for the TSA, on top of the normal curriculum for primary three students.

However, there are other ways to assess student performance without them having to undergo rigid training on the TSA.

The TSA can be a good tool to assess how well the schools are performing based on the performance of their students.

However, the way it is being implemented has put the burden on students and teachers.

The government has set goals, and teachers can only follow government orders to train their students to meet such goals. 

For the schools, the TSA is very important as it is related to their funding allocation from the government. It’s all about money.

Schools need government funding for their development. But the assessment shceme has only turned students into TSA experts. Is that what schools, parents and the government want to see?

If the government can’t find a better way to allocate funding, it should return to the market mechanism by letting the schools and parents make their own policies and decisions.

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EJ Insight writer