Attacks on TSA politically motivated

Updated: 2015-12-08 08:03

By Ho Lok-Sang(HK Edition)

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Ho Lok-sang argues that concerns over the Territory-wide System Assessment should focus on the excessive drilling of children and not on the exam itself

It seems clear to me that the furor over the Territory-wide System Assessment (TSA) is politically motivated.

Why are the objections of parents not directed at excessive drilling, but against the TSA? Why do parents ask for the abolition of the test, but not for improvements in the content or the administration of it?

If the objections over the TSA are based on the excessive drilling of students to prepare them for it, it seems logical that they should target their objections at the excessive drilling but not at the TSA. Is it because the TSA results are not registered under the names of their children, so even excellent performances will not help them secure better places as they progress in the education system, whereas drilling over other subjects that relate more to "placement" is fine?

At least 60 people reportedly joined an action in Tai Po demanding abolition of the test for causing undue stress on pupils. By definition, excessive stress is bad; excessive drilling is bad; and anything excessive is bad. But, once again, what is the rationale for abolishing this particular test? The student is not even told how well or how badly he or she has done. So there is no stress from having to face the consequences of failing the test. One wonders if this is the reason why parents think the test should be scrapped - because it is "of no use". If so, I have to say the parents are grossly utilitarian and short-sighted.

Introduced in 2004 to assess Primary Three, Six and Form Three pupils in Chinese, English and mathematics, the test is supposed to inform the Education Bureau of students' strengths and weaknesses against basic competencies. The bureau says: "(The TSA exams) help schools and teachers to enhance their plans on learning and teaching. The territory-wide data also help the government to review policies and to provide focused support to schools."

One complaint is that the Education Bureau is using the results to hold schools accountable for poor performances. Schools risk being terminated if they under-perform. This fear is real - though what they fear may or may not happen, as Hong Kong is still facing at least a few more years of falling student numbers due to a decline in fertility. It is alleged that headmasters will put pressure on teachers and teachers will in turn put pressure on students. The result is excessive drilling.

The Education Bureau should inform the public whether schools will be held accountable for a poor TSA performance. If the TSA results are never used this way, school names can and should be deleted altogether from answer books and from the records.

Another complaint is that the tests are often too hard. If they are indeed too hard, the level of difficulty should be adjusted. Moreover, a test should include questions with different levels of difficulty. It could even include three parts: level I, level II, and level III. Most students would expected to be able to do level I and level II, and only the brightest would be expected to be able to do level III. Students could tackle III if they wanted, but not be expected to handle them. This way, the test could become fun and the frustration or the shame of being intimidated by difficult questions could be minimized.

If, currently, students are generally given too much homework, schools should be asked to ensure that teachers give less homework to students. I might even support parents who boycott classes when schools give students excessive homework. But I really cannot understand why parents should demand the abolition of the TSA altogether.

I hate to have to come to the conclusion that the current furor over the TSA is politically motivated. But I just cannot find an alternative explanation for the controversy. In many ways the behavior of those who oppose the TSA resembles that of those who opposed Moral and National Education. It is confrontational and uncompromising, and instead of seeking to improve the way the test is designed, conducted or used, those who oppose the test demand nothing but abolition of the test altogether. The most peculiar aspect to this "movement" is that parents seem to be saying that drilling is fine as long as it helps improve performance in examinations which "matter", despite the fact that excessive drilling is always bad by definition.

I must advise those parents who join in the boycott that what they are doing is setting a very bad example for their children. Children, being still young, really should learn to have dialogues, seek answers, and work out solutions to problems with people that they may not agree with. Asking them to boycott a class when others do not agree with their demands is not the way to nurture a sense of good citizenship. Instead it is an invitation to a very unhappy life of fighting with other people.

Attacks on TSA politically motivated

(HK Edition 12/08/2015 page9)