Letters from leaders of Hong Kong's political parties and government departments.
Back in 2015, when some parents were discussing online the pressure of study on their children, they were enthusiastically joined by tens of thousands of other parents. They pointed an accusing finger at the Territory-wide System Assessment (TSA), identifying it as the culprit responsible for endless drills of assessment questions devoid of learning purposes. Indeed, the education sector has, continuously over the years, pointed out the source of problems. The Hong Kong Professional Teachers' Union (PTU) has issued quite a number of survey and investigation reports on this. However, Education Bureau (EDB) has all along refused to squarely face the issue. Even though there were outrage and joint petitions by tens of thousands of teachers and parents against Primary 3 TSA, the then Secretary for Education Eddie NG Hak-kim simply responded perfunctorily. Eventually, the only thing that emerged was a ‘pilot study’ in which 50 schools were asked to take part. The study was, through the use of euphemistic language, extended to all primary schools in Hong Kong in the following year. Whilst referred to as a study, it was actually compulsory in nature. And TSA was given a new name: Basic Competency Assessments (BCA) which does not bring about any new meaning. There was a spark of hope for our junior primary students when Carrie Lam, in her capacity as a candidate in the Chief Executive election, clearly promised in her election platform to ‘shelve Primary 3 TSA before the completion of a comprehensive review of the relevant policy’. Recently, however, there have been reports that the Government will not shelve Primary 3 TSA and that we shall see a comprehensive resumption of it. In other words, TSA is expected to come back and haunt us again! The Teachers’ Union immediately collected the views of frontline teachers through a survey, the findings of which have recently been published. I would like to share with our audiences a few salient points. Recognising the need to eliminate incentives for drills, EDB and the so-called TSA Review Committee introduced a few measures including ‘adjusting the types of questions’, ‘adjusting the level of difficulty’ and ‘adjusting the format of reporting by schools’. These are invariably changes of an inconsequential nature. Findings from the PTU survey reveal that only 10% of our primary school teachers believe that these three measures can effectively solve the problem of drills. In the past two years, EDB claims that through adjustments to the types of questions, to the level of difficulty and to the format of reporting by schools, incentives for drills have been successfully eliminated. Responses from teachers to questionnaire surveys conducted by PTU in the past two years invariably reflect the persistence of drills and supplementary classes. According to the latest survey, which was conducted even before any EDB announcements about the fate of Primary 3 TSA for the current academic year, as many as 40% of our teachers have already been preparing materials for drills and supplementary classes. This robustly refutes EDB’s claim of having successfully eliminated incentives for drills and which clearly shows that such a claim of EDB’s is nothing but nonsense bordering on ‘burying one’s head in the sand’! If EDB insists on a comprehensive resumption of Primary 3 TSA, the situation of drills will, according to 80% of our teachers, get even more serious. Isn’t the Government able to see this? Even more alarming is that as many as 90% of our teachers believe, according to the survey, that the entire process of teaching and learning (including homework and tests) in our schools have to pander to the types of questions and format of TSA. Whilst materials and activities do not necessarily bear the TSA label, the effect of TSA has already deeply permeated every single aspect of our daily teaching and learning. Having TSA drills regularly on a daily basis does not only affect the progress of teaching and the design of curricula and generate mechanical drills, but it also, more importantly, distorts the principles of education. Teachers teach to the test. Students learn for the test. As a result, students’ motivation and interest are stifled. This has an extremely grave negative impact on our education. When responding to our survey, quite a number of teachers offered comments on how TSA has affected teaching and learning and how it has hampered students’ normal process of learning. I would like to share with you two relatively short and self-contained comments. A teacher writes, ‘In my school, drills have extended down to Primary 1. On top of supplementary exercises, my school has designed, as an exercise for our young kids, a booklet on the practice of speaking. As a result, Primary 1 students are subjected to considerable academic pressure. I hope that TSA can be abolished so that our kids can once again have a splendid childhood!’ Another teacher writes, ‘For schools above basic competence, it is a waste of time to do exercises the types of which are out of tune with those of the school. Not only does this add pressure on students, it also wastes staff resources which can otherwise be better deployed. The party benefiting most from such an anomaly is the publisher. For schools below the required standard, students are not even able to handle their own curriculum. Those who are academically weak have to, for the sake of assessment, know the scope of assessment and the format of assessment. As a responsible school, it is impossible for us not to drill students with exercises.’ That normal teaching in schools is hampered by mechanical drills, that primary school kids are already subjected to examination-orientated education and that education principles are distorted are some of the chain reactions brought about by TSA. Surveys have robustly established that the core problems of TSA have not yet been solved and that teachers and parents are full of doubts and worries about a comprehensive resumption of TSA. If the Government decides on an immediate resumption of it, not only will this decision be detrimental to teachers and students, it will inevitably provoke dissatisfaction in the education sector and among the parents. I hope that Chief Executive Carrie LAM can seriously listen to the views of different stake-holders and seriously review the core problems of TSA as well as the entire culture of drills so that Hong Kong’s education can return to its proper track.
Dear Hong Kong Citizens,
As you may have noticed, the grade one historic building in Tuen Mun known as the Hung Lau has been put into the spotlight recently due to the damages that it has sustained by developers. The attitude and efficiency the H.K. government exhibited (after the damages were known) was totally unacceptable, and calls into question how effective our current heritage conservation policy is in protecting historic monuments.
The Hung Lau, which means "Red House" in Cantonese, is historically important as it is said to be linked to Dr. Sun Yat-sen during the Chinese republican revolutionary days. Yet, trees surrounding the Hung Lau were chopped down, parts of the walls surrounding the building were torn down, even the water supply was cut off forcefully in February. I visited the site with Tuen Mun local residents as soon as I knew about these damages, and saw no sign that such work would stop. I wrote to Secretary of Development Eric Ma immediately, requesting him to declare the Hung Lau a ‘proposed monument’ under the Antiquities and Monuments Ordinance. On 1st of March, Antiquities Advisory Board, abbreviated as AAB, stated that it would not declare the building a ‘proposed monument’, and that it would only declare it as such, only if it should sustain any further damages in the future, a decision I find ill-informed and completely unreasonable. On 8th of March, multiple windows of Hung Lau were damaged and only then did the Antiquities and Monuments Office declare it a ‘proposed monument’. The way how things turned out not only showed how incapable the government is when protecting historic monuments, it also shows how little significance is attached to heritage conservation.
When a building that has not been declared a monument is about to be demolished, such work could only take place after permission from "Building Department" or "Lands Department" under the "Building Ordinance" (Cap12) and "Buildings Ordinance (Application to the New Territories) Ordinance". However, as seen in the case of the Hung Lau, when damages were reported and demolishing work started to take place, the only action taken by the authorities was Building Department issuing a Notice and putting it in an obvious spot, which fails to act as a deterrent. Lessons learnt from past examples have also shown the unavoidably repeated fate of demolition even if the monuments were given a grade one status, like that of Queen’s Pier and Star Ferry Pier. It is also worth mentioning that Ho Tung Gardens and the Complex of King Yin Lei at Stubbs Road were also granted a "proposed monument" status after they were damaged, which further demonstrates the government’s incapability of protecting ungraded historical buildings.
The Chief Executive appoints the chairman and members of the board of AAB (Antiquities Advisory Board), which explains why its members are all his supports and confidants, making the Broad as a consultative panel full of politicians and businessmen. Only four members of the board have archaeological and historical backgrounds, the rest of them are from fields such as planning, accounting, politics and information and technology. This undoubtedly questions the legitimacy of AAB Antiquities Advisory Board. Moreover, under such leadership, discussions inside Antiquities Advisory Board are inevitably driven by development and business interests. Heritage conservation is an important step towards achieving sustainable development, but such goal seems more difficult to achieve when the effectiveness of Antiquities Advisory Board is hampered by the way the CE appoints its members.
To ensure that buildings with historical significance are protected, the Historic Buildings Grading System should be added into the jurisdiction of the Antiquities and Monuments Ordinance, This would prevent private property owners from tearing down any buildings of historical value, and ensure that buildings that are not declared a monument could also be protected. In addition, the Antiquities and Monuments Office should increase its transparency and accountability by allowing public participation and the nomination of representatives from the corresponding fields. Lastly, the government should also consider setting up an Architectural Heritage Fund that is responsible for conserving historic buildings and monuments.
Even though the Hung Lau is currently declared a ‘proposed monument', the building is only safe for a year. Thus, I hope the building will be declared a monument, so that the public can know more about the building and its history in the future. Like many fellow citizens, I also hope the publicity this series of events has generated can help raise the public’s awareness to Hong Kong’s heritage conservation policy.