Monday, June 09, 2014

How not to do something; or education should not involve misleading students

This image has been a prominent post on several Chinese social media sites for the last several days. I don't actually know if this really happened or not. What is disconcerting is that the education establishment in Hong Kong is screwy enough that something like this is believable.

Without looking at the corrected, second  image below can you answer this question in 20 seconds or less?

I understand the need for standards in education. I understand the desire of parents and schools for their children to receive a quality education. I also have, evidently unlike a lot of the principals or troglocrats in the EMB some training in pedagogy. The problem is that this is a logical reasoning and spacial location question where the picture is upside down. It isn't a counting problem but one which requires thinking skills beyond the level of most 5 year-olds.

When you turn the question over it makes sense as a question about counting

If you want to see if a 5 year-old child can count to 100 you don't ask question with the data upside down and backwards. It doesn't matter how much time they have to answer the question unless you are teaching children to read numbers that are backwards and upside down. This question was inappropriate because if you look at the research on brain development you'd know that children do not develop the ability to think abstractly until about age 11 - 13 so this question would be almost impossible for a 5 year-old to answer.  The area of the brain that thinks abstractly is not functioning yet in a child that young.  

I worked in Hong Kong schools for many years and was constantly frustrated with people setting test questions that looked like this.  They want to make sure that they get children that are intellectually gifted, or they think this sort of stuff shows how academically rigorous the curriculum is in that school. What it really shows is that they don't know what they are doing. The issue should be does the child have the basic skills needed for the grade level not can the test setter trick the children with with tricky questions beyond the child's' ability to comprehend.
Worse the question itself is dishonest.  To simply ask "What parking spot # is the car parked in?" implies that the information viewed is essentially correct and misleads students into not looking for problems in the presentation.  If this had appeared as a logical reasoning question in a test for an older child it might serve some value, assuming the question was rephrased to something like;  "There is a problem with the picture below. In order to identify the space the automobile is parked in you must first identify that problem. What is the problem and what is the number of the space the car is parked in?" For questions like this to have any meaning the person setting the test needs to inform the test taker that there is a problem with the question and that figuring out that problem is part of the answer.

Notice, I haven't even complained about the poor grammar in the question. It should have the word "number" spelled out and not use the "#" symbol. But that is a minor issue compared to the other things wrong with this question.

If this was really a question  on an entrance exam for a 1st grade place in a HK school then the person who set that test is little better than a pedophile because they are not testing the ability to count but simply torturing little kids for the fun of it. 

I hope that this is actually some sort of joke that didn't really happen.

Until Next Time
Fai Mao
The blogger with some training in pedagogy  

Monday, June 02, 2014

Leaving Hong Kong

It is funny how things work out sometimes. 

In January of 2012 I took what I thought would be a single contract with the University of Guam. I had been in Hong Kong since 1997 and it was home and I planned to return there. The contract with the UOG was an opportunity for me to more from secondary to tertiary education and I had hoped to be able to return to Hong Kong in three years with a job in one of the universities located in the Pearl of the Orient. I have lived in Hong Kong for almost 1/3 of my life, and it is and probably always will be my home town.

When I left for Guam I sort of put this blog on hold as I viewed my time here as a temporary interlude, a three year working vacation. I was also somewhat tired of the blog. It seemed that despite my best efforts most of the post had been revolving around local Hong Kong politics and I didn't like that. Politics tends to make me angry and I don't really like myself when I am angry. So I needed a break

But things change. The US changed its tax laws so that it is more difficult for US citizens to live over seas. I did well in the job here. I also realized I am old enough to slow down. So here I am three years later about to sign a second contract.  The really pretty-looks 35 years younger than she is-super intelligent- funny- caring-Chinese wife and I just purchased a nearly 1600 square foot house near the UOG. It needs renovation and like most of the typhoon & Earthquake resistant architecture here looks like a machine-gun bunker on the outside with the concrete walls and flat concrete roof. I don't know that we will be here 20 years but I think we will be here a while

Guam is an interesting place. It is sort of like the US 40 years ago only poorer and more Catholic. Sort of like South Texas or Southern California but with less crime. The tourist side of the island pretty and green but the area around the university is rather run-down and dilapidated. Guam is small, about the size of Hong Kong Island but far flatter so lots more useable land and with only 140,000 or so people far less crowed. With only the crudest mass transit you have to have an automobile here. Guam is, compared to many places in the US rather expensive. For instance, we could have gotten a similar house to the one we bought here in Houston for maybe 1/3 as much. Alternately this house would have several orders of magnitude more in Hong Kong

Guam is not a place we probably would have chosen to live for a variety of reasons but here we are.  It is too far away from both my family in West Texas and our daughters' family in the UK. Most things are expensive here. Hong Kong has a much greater variety of foods at far lower prices, especially fruits and vegetables available than Guam every could.

So why stay here? Well, inertia is part of it. It is easier to stay than move and here we are. It is also a good place to transition back to a US that has changed beyond recognition since I left in the mid 1990's. I can't really go back to North Texas or Alabama. Those places have changed so much since I left that I would be an alien in the place I used to live. Better to be an alien in an unfamiliar place. Guam is also close enough to Hong Kong that friends and family there can visit without a huge expense in either money or time. It is only a 5 or 6 hour flight so week-end visits are easy enough. 

Despite all of the issues with Guam I am enjoying painting the spare bedrooms, mowing the yard and planning the renovations for the house. Having banana, mango and macadamia nut trees in the yard is nice. Being able to fish on the weekends is nice. Not having to deal with the Hong Kong air-pollution is really good.

When I was a child I once heard a man, I can't remember who, say; "Everyplace, if it is a free society  is a good place to live but maybe not good in the way you are used to." I think whoever that was that said that was probably a pretty wise person. There are lots of good things about Hong Kong. There are lots of good things about Guam too.

Until Next Time
Fai Mao
The blogger who used to be from Hong KOng