By now, it’s clear the opposition against TSA tests for primacy school pupils goes beyond the mere testing itself. While some parents genuinely detest the Territory-wide System Assessment and want it to end, others oppose not just the tests but the high-pressure, exam-oriented education system of which TSA is seen, rightly or wrongly, as a prime example.
Still, pan-democratic groups such as the Professional Teachers’ Union and others in the legislature have used the issue as another stick to beat the unpopular Leung Chun-ying administration.
The next government should consider the furore over the TSA as an opportunity to address long-standing discontent among parents. Much-needed, meaningful changes can be introduced if the next chief executive and education minister have the will and the skill for it.
As an experimental scheme, the new government should allow the formation of a new sponsoring body with a liberal, progressive and non-religious mandate. It should involve like-minded parents, educators and academics to design, operate and manage schools under it, including the power to opt out of the TSA.
Sponsoring bodies in Hong Kong are mostly religious, welfare and charity groups that date back to the colonial era. As a result, they all tend to be conservative and resistant to change. But the government relies on them to run hundreds of schools.
One key reason why the post-1997 education reform failed was because of opposition from those sponsoring bodies, especially the powerful Catholic Diocese.
It’s about time we set up a new, progressive and secular sponsoring body. Given the 200 or so schools that have been shut down in recent years, there should be no shortage of available campuses.
Like many direct-subsidy schools now, the new body will have wide latitude in running its schools and designing curriculums. Of course, students still have to sit for exams under the Diploma of Secondary Education and meet admission standards of local universities. So parents and pupils will take some risks with these unproven schools with no track records.
Still, such schools as currently available are mainly independent or international schools, which receive little or no public subsidies and are financially out of reach of middle-class families. But parents with progressive goals for their children ought to have their own subsidised education outlets. It’s unjust they are denied the opportunity simply because they can’t afford it.