The revamped Territory-wide System Assessment (TSA) for primary three students, which was tested in some schools last year, will be extended to all primary schools, the Education Bureau has announced.

Many demanded the abolition of the controversial test in 2015, saying that the assessments were beyond student capabilities and that they caused stress as they could not be completed without practice. The Bureau put forward the Tryout Study – a revamped, voluntary version – the following year, but some schools refused to join.

Secretary for Education Eddie Ng denied the expansion was a resumption of the widely criticised original test. He said the 2016 trial received “very positive feedback” from 50 schools.

Eddie Ng. File Photo: GovHK.

“The goal of the research is to allow more schools to participate and understand the new initiatives in the 2016 trial programme, to receive more comprehensive feedback from schools and stakeholders,” he said, claiming that the study formed part of the daily routine of teaching and learning.

“I must restate that the 2017 primary three Basic Competency Assessment Research Study is an expansion of the [existing] study, it is not a resumption of the TSA,” he said. “The data received will not be used to assess the performance of schools, there is no need for extra practice for schools.”

He made the announcement after attending a meeting of the Committee on Home-School Co-operation where he met with representatives from District Federations of Parent-Teacher Associations and the primary education sector.

Ng dodges question 

Asked whether schools can opt out of the programme, Ng said the Bureau was extending the invitation to all to participate.

“I genuinely believe if there is really such a situation of a school having a difficulty, I would be more than happy to have my colleagues to discuss [sic] with them to see how we are going to help.”

Ng said government primary schools would not purchase any practice material to show there is no need for homework drills.

Ip Kin-yuen. File Photo: Stanley Leung/HKFP.

Education sector lawmaker Ip Kin-yuen said he is angry over the new initiative, which he called a de facto resumption of the TSA test.

“If this is a study, shouldn’t there be a time limit? Shouldn’t this be conducted with a sampling of schools, rather than all?” he said. “The government did not want to admit that because they know TSAs have caused a huge controversy, so they tried to sneak around to find different means to avoid opposition.”

“The government is trying to cover up its real intention [by] telling people they are extending their research,” he said.

‘Cover up’

Odilon Couzin, a member of the Hong Kong Parents Alliance, questioned the positive feedback Ng claimed to have received.

“[It] appears to have come from a small sample of hand-picked school principals, but the process is totally non-transparent,” he told HKFP. “The EDB also says it received positive feedback from parents, but it seems they only included a total of about 100 parents in their focus groups, and it is unclear how those parents were selected, what questions they were asked, or what they actually said.”

Education Secretary Eddie Ng at a primary school. File Photo: GovHK.

Couzin said the Alliance believed that participation in the new test should be voluntary and should require the consent of all parents.

“At a time when the entire education [system] is in urgent need of reform, the decision to bring the P3 TSA back is extremely disappointing and shows us that the EDB is completely out of touch with the intense pressure that parents, students and teachers are facing,” he said.

“We believe that as long as the test is conducted, it will create pressures on schools to prepare, distorting the curriculum and very likely increasing the amount of cramming and rote memorization that students are forced to do.”

The Alliance is planning further actions in February after the Lunar New Year holidays.

See also: HKFP’s comprehensive guide to mental health services in Hong Kong

Retired judge Woo Kwok-hing, a chief executive contender, opposed the new arrangement on social media.

“Secretary Ng, it’s almost the end of the [lunar] year, can’t you just let people rest a bit? Can’t you hear how tired students, parents and teachers are?” he said.

A Committee on Prevention of Student Suicides was set up in March after seven student suicide cases emerged in the space of just nine days.

Kris Cheng

Kris Cheng is a Hong Kong journalist with an interest in local politics. His work has been featured in Washington Post, Public Radio International, Hong Kong Economic Times and others. He has a BSSc in Sociology from the Chinese University of Hong Kong. Kris is HKFP's Editorial Director.