Saturday, December 02, 2006

Road to Regression?

Education is on the agenda of politicians all over the world because it is an emotive issue. It is certainly one of John Howard's favourite topics. We are easy targets to be stirred because all of us have our own view on whether education should be free and accessible; should it be compulsory up to a certain age; and is the standard of education slipping. And all these questions are just the tip of an iceberg.

In recent years, many governments deplore the current state of education and some have become concerned how their country's education stack up against others in international assessments. It seems the question on many politicians' lips, across nations, is that why are we churning out more university graduates than ever but people in general, seem to be less and less "educated"?

I am in no position to even attempt this question. However, I have received a photo taken at a recent exhibition in Hong Kong. It is a photo of an exhibit – an exam paper of the compulsory primary school completion exam sat by all year 6 students (final year of primary school) in Hong Kong in 1953.

This yearly and compulsory exam was divided into 4 parts – English, Chinese, Mathematics and General Knowledge. Up to around 1980, all primary school students had to pass the exam to graduate from primary school, be it a private, fee paying school or a free public one. Since then, this compulsory exam has become multiple-choice. I sat for the multiple-choice papers in the second year of their existence and I am thankful, especially now that I have read the following exam questions.

So let's see if the standard of education has slipped, ever so slightly since the 1950s (do bear in mind that these questions are meant for an 11 year-old)...

General Knowledge Paper, 1953 (Public Exam for Primary School Completion)

1. Describe differences between Sparta and Athens and their governments.

2. List the causes of the French Revolution.

3. Answer part (A) and (B):
(A) List all monsoon regions, their climate and quantity of rain fall.
(B) Explain how deserts are formed.

4. Describe and compare the methods of agriculture in China and U.S.A

(In the section above, choose 3 out of 4 questions)

5. Describe the structure of the Legislative, Administrative and Executive bodies of the British Hong Kong Government and their authorities.

6. Explain the reasons for the British Hong Kong Government in setting up a Chinese Home Affairs department. What purpose does this department serve?

7. Why does government tax people? Is our tax rate arbitrary? Which governmental body approves tax legislations and tax rates? How are disputes in tax assessments resolved?

8. When was United Nations founded? Where is the headquarters? What is the mandate of the United Nations?

(In the section above, choose 3 out of 4 questions)

9. Use diagrams and text to explain high tide and low tide.

10. List all the vitamins and their functions. Describe the food groups in which they are found and the quantity found.

11. Explain the differences between a common mosquito and a Malaria-carrying mosquito. Explain how a Malaria-carrying mosquito spreads Malaria.

(In the section above, choose 2 out of 3 questions)
Makes a great quiz at dinner parties, does it not?

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