Imitating the Western-style education will result in nothing

By Huang Lanlan Source:Global Times Published: 2018/2/1 18:23:39


Illustrations: Chen Xia/GT

A math question from a Chinese school's fifth-grade test has caused heated discussions online. The question is, "There are 26 sheep and 10 goats on a ship, so what's the age of the vessel's captain?"

As an advanced student who often got high scores in math, I was stunned by this awkward question. I'm so glad that I was not among the pupils who had to answer it just to pass a test. Otherwise I might have to leave it blank, receive a low mark and then spend a very hard Chinese New Year being blamed and beaten by my angry parents.

Nonetheless, the pupils of Nanchong, Southwest China's Sichuan Province, who were asked to answer this bizarre question reportedly offered some funny and even brilliant responses.

"The captain is at least 18 years old, because a juvenile is not allowed to steer a vessel," one pupil answered, according to "The captain is 36 years old," another wrote. "Because he is very narcissistic and he wants the total number of animals on the ship to reflect his age." "I'm not sure about his age," another wrote. "The number of sheep and goats has nothing to do with the captain's age."

Amused by the children's answers, many netizens criticized the examiner for purposely confusing his/her pupils with such an inexplicable question. After it went viral online, the local education bureau responded to netizens, explaining that the question was meant to test critical thinking skills.

"Surveys show that many Chinese pupils lack a skeptical spirit and critical mind," their statement said. "By answering this question, we hope our kids can cultivate their spirit as well as the courage of breaking their fixed mindset."

I applaud the education authority's timely response, which is rarely seen in China, but I don't buy its logic. This "sheep, goat and age" question actually has nothing to do with critical thinking.

There are many better ways to foster a student's mental development, such as reading beneficial books or participating in debate competitions. Binding two irrelevant things together and packaging them as a "puzzling math question" is not clever, it's just weird.

As expected, the bureau's words aroused further complaints. "It's not innovative; it's ridiculous," one person commented on Global Times Metro Shanghai's WeChat account. "The question itself is too absurd to be called a 'question'," another wrote on Facebook.

It seems that, nowadays, the Chinese education system is keen on learning from the West by utilizing their unconventional testing methods. An increasing number of domestic schools here are attaching greater importance to cultivating students' imagination, creativity, independence and other such buzzwords popular in schools of developed countries.

Yes, Chinese students should start taking "advanced concepts" into consideration instead of monotonously being forced to learn by rote memorization. Nevertheless, teachers who mechanically imitate their Western peers without a better understanding of the true essence of Western education will only result in "neither fish nor flesh," which is to say, nothing!

Ironically, we've also seen a trend recently of Western schools learning from the strengthens of Chinese-style education, especially in mathematics teaching. In 2015, a BBC documentary featuring five Chinese secondary school teachers in the UK attracted wide attention.

In this documentary, a group of British ninth graders being taught by Chinese teachers for one month received better scores in every subject than the control group being taught by local teaching staff. For instance, the average math score of the Chinese-taught group was 67.74, while its British-taught peers earned only 54.84.

Moreover, since September 2017, some primary schools in the UK have reportedly started using the official math textbooks compiled, published and used by Shanghai.

I'm happy with all the communication and mutual learning occurring between Chinese and Western education systems. Nonetheless, Chinese schools must become smarter in their attempt to absorb foreign teaching concepts. Chinese students usually stand out in PISA (Program for International Student Assessment) and other international tests, but I believe that few will ever attribute this achievement to laughable, nonsensical test questions.

The opinions expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Global Times.

Posted in: TWOCENTS

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