When I finished primary school, decades ago, we had to take the Secondary School Entrance Examination (SSEE), or 中學入學考試, if we wished to go on to attend secondary school. The SSEE tested Chinese, English and Mathematics. At that time, secondary school was neither compulsory nor free. Everyone of us wanted to get into secondary school. But some could not afford the fees; others did not do well enough in the SSEE. So there was pressure. But there was also a clear sense that if you were smart and work hard, you would get into a good school and improve your prospects in society. It was a kind of meritocracy. I did well enough in SSEE but had difficulties with the school fees. Eventually I got a government scholarship to attend Aberdeen Technical School (ATS), a boarding school run by the Salesians for under-privileged students. I remain grateful to the government, and the Salesians.
People complained that the education system was elitist and too-heavily examination driven. Many waves of reformation were carried out, year after year. So what do we get now?
There is no more SSEE. Supposedly, progression to secondary school is no longer dependent on the student’s performance in a single examination such as the SSEE. The students have to take the Territory-wide System Assessment (TSA), or 全港性系統評估. The TSA tests English, Chinese and Mathematics, to give schools feedback on the effectiveness of their teaching.
They also have to take the Pre-Secondary One Hong Kong Attainment Test (Pre-S1 HKAT), or 中一入學前香港學科測驗 (中一編班試). The Pre-S1 HKAT is used by Secondary Schools to assess the performance of their Form 1 entrants in Chinese, English and Mathematics. It is also used to scale the internal assessment results of the Primary 6 students proceeding to Form 1.
Theoretically, a P6 student’s results in the TSA and the Pre-S1 HKAT do not affect directly the secondary school the student is placed into. However, the students’ results determines to which class in the secondary is the student placed. The results also affect the ranking of the primary school. Just try telling the students that they are not pressured to train for these examinations.
There are, of course, internal examinations (升中呈分試) at the Primary School, the results of which are used to classify the students into one of three bands, for the lottery which allocates F1 places to the P6 students.
You tell me now, is this an improvement over the SSEE?