In a rare moment of unity, 36 lawmakers from across the political spectrum have come together to urge the government to halt its controversial test system for schools.

The lawmakers came from pan-democratic parties, the pro-Beijing New People’s Party, the Business and Professionals Alliance for Hong Kong, and functional constituencies such as the labour and industrial sectors.

Lawmakers from across the political spectrum. Photo: Andrew Shum, via Facebook.

The test system in question is the controversial Territory-wide System Assessment (TSA) and its revamped version, the Basic Competency Assessment (BCA). The government uses the test results to review its support for schools. As a result, schools often give students intensive homework drills out of fear that low test scores may affect their funding from the government.

On Wednesday, the lawmakers signed a petition demanding the government accept two proposals recently passed by the legislature’s Panel on Education to halt the test policy and allow schools and parents to decide whether they want to participate in the tests.

Although the tests were suspended last year, the Education Bureau recently announced that it would reintroduce them for Primary 3 students in public schools this May. Around 50,000 Primary 3 students will be affected.

Parents and teachers have threatened to boycott the tests following the announcement.

Primary school students. File

‘Non-political issue’

“This is a livelihood issue, not a political one. No matter which camp you side with, as long as you are a teacher or parent, you suffer from the policy,” educational sector lawmaker Ip Kin-yuen said at a media session on Wednesday.

Pro-Beijing lawmaker Priscilla Leung, who signed the petition, said she hoped both camps would unite over more non-political issues in the future.

Despite the joint effort, three major parties refused to sign the petition – the pro-business Liberal Party, the pro-Beijing Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong (DAB), and the Hong Kong Federation of Trade Unions (FTU).

DAB lawmaker Horace Cheung said his party did not sign the petition because it “respected the professionalism of educators” and wanted to let schools and parents handle the issue on their own.

Horace Cheung Kwok-kwan. Photo: HKFP/Catherine Lai.

The FTU’s Alice Mak cited a similar reason and added that her party did not want to “put political pressure” on schools.

CY Leung vs. Carrie Lam

Chief Executive-elect Carrie Lam said on a Commercial Radio show Wednesday morning that she was concerned about the stress caused to students by the tests. She said she planned to discuss the possibility of halting the policy with the government as soon as possible.

Less than an hour after Lam made her remarks, Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying told reporters that his administration would press on with the policy. “Even if the government is to abolish the policy, it will only take place after July 1 [when Lam assumes office],” he said.

Leung Chun-ying and Carrie Lam. Photo: GovHK.

Lam later said that she respected the decision of the current administration.

Pro-Beijing lawmaker Michael Tien, who signed the petition, said Leung was asserting his authority through his statement. He criticised Leung for taking a hardline approach and said he could have discussed the issue with Lam before making the statement.

Ellie Ng

Ellie Ng has written for Foreign Policy, the Daily Telegraph, Global Voices Online and others.