The government has reignited the controversy surrounding the hotly disputed Territory-wide System Assessment program (TSA) by announcing that it will be replaced by the Basic Competency Assessment program (BCA) from May this year.
Under the BCA, all primary three students will have to sit for a test on their English, Chinese and math proficiency, according to Secretary for Education Eddie Ng.
The results will only be used by the Education Bureau for assessing the overall strengths and weaknesses of students. No school will ever be penalized for their poor BCA test results, he said.
However, Ng’s assurances seem to be of little help in allaying concerns among parents, students and schools that the BCA is just a resurrection of the TSA and may once again spark another round of stampede among schools to drill their students for the test, something that many in the education sector have tried to prevent.
The TSA was hated so much by parents and students because it led to over-drilling in class, too much homework, study-related stress among students and the deprivation of their leisure time which otherwise could have been spent on other interests or learning.
In the face of widespread public outcry against the TSA, the Education Bureau agreed to review the policy last year and after months of study came up with the BCA to replace the TSA.
However, no matter whether it is TSA or BCA, as long as the government makes it mandatory for students to sit for public exams or tests, it will almost certainly give rise to competition and drilling.
And that raises a fundamental question: Is it really necessary to subject students to across-the-board and mandatory tests if the Education Bureau is just trying to collect general data on students’ overall academic level? Isn’t there any viable alternative to TSA or BCA that can serve the same purpose without causing students extra stress?
In fact, the Education Bureau under Secretary Ng has been fighting an uphill battle in trying to achieve anything over the past five years, and basically each and every one of its policy initiative has encountered strong public opposition.
To a certain extent, one of the main reasons the Education Bureau has met with so many difficulties is that Secretary Ng has failed to gain the trust of parents, teachers and schools.
That said, perhaps what Secretary Ng needs to do is reflect on his policy approach and the causes of his unpopularity, instead of complaining about bad press.
This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on Jan. 25
Translation by Alan Lee
[Chinese version 中文版]
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