22 March 2019
Hong Kong government’s insistence on pushing ahead with controversial assessment tests for primary school students has provoked a backlash from parents. Photo: HKEJ
Hong Kong government’s insistence on pushing ahead with controversial assessment tests for primary school students has provoked a backlash from parents. Photo: HKEJ

How opportunities to resolve the TSA tests row were lost

As the controversy over the highly unpopular Territory-wide System Assessment (TSA) Test for primary school students continues to snowball, outgoing Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying and his incoming successor Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor appear to be not seeing eye to eye over the issue.

While Lam has pledged to scrap the test after she takes office on July 1, the incumbent Leung administration has insisted that this year’s test will be carried out according to schedule. Leung’s obstinate refusal to postpone or abolish the highly controversial test has provoked a backlash from parents, many of whom have called upon schools to boycott the test scheduled for June.

Apparently, what Leung is trying to do is to leave the whole mess, which his government created, for the incoming administration.

As a matter of fact, the entire controversy over the TSA test was totally avoidable, had it not been for Leung’s stubbornness and disdain for public opinion. In my view, his government had missed at least three golden opportunities to resolve the dispute and ease public anger.

The first opportunity came in October 2015, when an online campaign mounted by tens of thousands of parents against the TSA test caught media attention and received massive coverage.

The dispute could have ended right there if the Education Bureau had been willing to listen and thoroughly review the policy.

Unfortunately, rather than answering public calls, all the government did was perfunctorily agree to re-evaluate the policy through an existing steering committee made up predominantly of bureaucrats. And as expected, the committee unanimously agreed that the TSA test was necessary because it can provide a benchmark against which students’ competence can be measured.

The second opportunity came in May 2016, when the administration, in face of public pressure, launched a voluntary “pilot research scheme” in 50 primary schools to find out if there was any feasible alternative to the TSA test so that pupils’ abilities can be assessed without schools having to drill them for public tests.

However, in December 2016, the Education Bureau suddenly announced that the “pilot research scheme” would be made mandatory for all schools in order to acquire more full-scale and comprehensive data. The move sparked suspicion among schools and parents that what the government was doing was simply try to press ahead with the TSA test in the name of the so-called “pilot research scheme”.

And the last chance came when 36 lawmakers, including myself, from across the political spectrum drew up a petition in March to urge the government to cancel the scheduled TSA test in June this year.

However, when we met with Chief Secretary Matthew Cheung Kin-chung and officials of the Education Bureau to discuss the matter, all they did was repeat their previous arguments. As to whether the government would allow schools and parents to choose freely whether or not to let their children take part in the TSA test in June, they remained evasive and equivocal.

I sincerely hope that the incoming Lam administration would stop being stubborn and be more receptive to public views over whether to scrap the TSA test for good. Lam reiterated during her election campaign that she would listen to public opinion and respect the wishes of the majority in society once elected. Now is the time for her to prove it.

This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on May 18

Translation by Alan Lee

[Chinese version 中文版]

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Legislative Council member from the education sector

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