The TSA is just a symptom of Hong Kong's sick education system

The TSA is just a symptom of Hong Kong's sick education system

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People are upset about the TSA, but the problem with our education system go much deeper.
Photo: Sam Tsang/SCMP

The Territory-wide System Assessment (TSA) might be old news, but it is just one sign of the deep-rooted problems of Hong Kong’s education system.

The very aim of the TSA is flawed. Government officials repeat over and over that the TSA is only used to assess schools so that relevant support and policies can be adjusted. However, if it is only about schools, then why does the Education Bureau use such an indirect approach that cannot truly reflect school’s quality?

It’s important for the government to ensure teaching quality, but these test results are based mainly on the students’ abilities. The quality of school, for instance, its teaching effectiveness or equipment, is only one of the many factors affecting the TSA grades. There are better ways to assess schools, such as sitting in on classes, which truly reveals the condition of schools.

With the pressure from the TSA, schools seem to forget their responsibility is to educate young students, and instead shift to “use” their students to prove their teaching ability. They confuse doing mock TSA questions with actual learning. Exams are supposed to test the application of knowledge, to test how much students have learned – but not how well they can manipulate the skills.

Learning how to eliminate options on a multiple-choice question is not knowledge, it’s not even a skill that is worth so much practice time. Schools have to realise their role in educating children, not drilling them.

The biggest fault of the TSA, though, is the nightmares it gives many youngsters. Excessive drilling takes up much of our time with homework and extra lessons. Even after we finish all our school work, guess what? There is still more work from private tutorial classes and extra-curricular activities.

Lots of parents complain that the work-rest balance for young children is made worse by the TSA. Yet, when you think deeper, over-working has long been a suffering of Hong Kong students. Everyone showed concern as soon as we had primary students sitting for the TSA. But since when was it acceptable for older students to shoulder such pressure?

In the end, the TSA is not the real problem. Neither cancelling it, nor changing it will fix anything. Even if the TSA issue is settled, there are still the Pre-Secondary One Hong Kong Attainment Test and HKDSE. It is the phenomenon of people over-emphasising the importance of grades that caused these problems.

Hongkongers have to rethink the concept of education. It is not all about achieving high marks. It takes moral values, soft skills, intellectual abilities, and much more to educate a person. Hong Kong’s value of a successful education is so distorted that is often confined to acceptance in a university, and if you don’t get in, you are a loser.

We simply forget there are other extremely vital occupations in society that do not require a professional qualification. What’s more ridiculous, in the top 18 per cent of Form Six students that do get into university, they are defined as “winners” and “losers” based on their choice of subject. It is superficial to say someone is “better educated” for choosing certain subjects such as medicine. This phenomenon contradicts Hong Kong ‘s reputation of being a pluralistic and “knowledge-based” society, and it is detrimental to the youngsters who grow up with such limited options.

I am not trying to overthrow any current education or examination systems, but to remind you that there is a lot beyond the curriculum and being “better educated”. We can always pursue knowledge under the existing system. There is no downright contradiction, but the joy of learning outside the system should co-exist with it.

Faced with such crisis, there is no better time to think about what our education should be in future. As the wise Irish poet William Butler Yeats said: “Education is not the filling of a pail, but the lighting of a fire.” Insightful advice for all of us.

This article appeared in the Young Post print edition as
TSA is a symptomof our 'sick' system

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