Pro-democracy lawmakers have vowed to support a motion to cut government funds allocated to re-introducing a controversial school test for Primary 3 students, as over 100 civil groups launched a citywide campaign.

Lawmaker Ray Chan said Thursday that he will be tabling the motion at the legislature’s Finance Committee. “I hope that pro-establishment lawmakers opposing the policy will stand their ground and vote for the motion,” Chan said.

“Impact of TSA-related stress on our bodies” banner. Photo: Lau Siu-lai, via Facebook.

Education sector lawmaker Ip Kin-yuen will also put forward a similar motion, as well as a motion to give Secretary for Education Eddie Ng a salary cut, his office told HKFP.

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.

The Education Bureau recently announced that it would reintroduce the tests for Primary 3 students in public schools this May. It said all 470-plus public schools and around 20 private school will be participating in the programme.

In a rare moment of unity, 36 lawmakers from across the political spectrum signed a joint statement last week urging the government to halt the test policy.

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

But pro-establishment lawmakers who signed the statement have not stated whether they will support Chan and Ip’s motions. Lawmaker Lau Siu-lai urged them on Thursday to “put aside their differences.”

Lau, who is also a sociology lecturer at the Hong Kong Community College, said: “My understanding as an educator is that children’s learning ability is the strongest between age 3 and 10. Yet, it is not homework or memorising skills that they should be learning, but rather important life lessons such as empathy and how to enjoy life.”

Citywide campaign

Meanwhile, an anti-TSA alliance formed by more than 100 civil groups launched a street canvassing campaign on Thursday urging the public to speak up against the policy. The civil groups represent various walks of life, including students, parents, educators, lawyers and other occupations.

Lawmakers and parents at Thursday’s anti-TSA campaign event. Photo: Lau Siu-lai, via Facebook.

“It is beyond our comprehension why the government insists on reintroducing the plan in such a haste,” secondary school teacher Alfred Chan of HKEd4all told HKFP.

“The idea is to let parents know that they have the right to say no. How is it okay that parents – who are stakeholders – do not have a say in this matter? The campaign aims at empowering society and telling people that they can also take part in shaping public policies.”

Chan said he believed Chief Executive-elect Carrie Lam would respond to the calls after she takes office in July. “Education policies and abolishing the TSA are the easiest issues for Lam. Doing so will also help her improve her popularity,” he said.

Students wrote words of encouragement at a street booth of the anti-TSA alliance. Photo: HKEd4all.

Last Wednesday, Lam said she was concerned about the stress experienced by students owing to the tests. She said she planned to discuss the possibility of halting the policy with the government as soon as possible.

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

Pro-Beijing lawmaker Michael Tien, who signed the petition, 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.