Being fair

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 28 July, 1996, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 28 July, 1996, 12:00am

Your correspondent, Y. Chung (Sunday Morning Post, July 21) wrote in connection with the copying of model essays in the Chinese Language and Culture subject of this year's A-Levels examinations.

Your correspondent claimed the Examinations Authority had no right to penalise those who used memorised material in writing their compositions since 'there was no infringement of exam rules laid down by the Authority, nor is there any concrete evidence regarding the suspected copying'.

The Authority's position on the first issue is self-evident since, as the syllabus clearly asserts, the paper aims to test the candidates' own writing skills. This problem had not previously surfaced in the testing of mother-tongue compositions, and unlike the situation for the second-language English, the possibility that it would surface was not even considered.

In the case of English Language composition, the HKCEE examination syllabus contained a specific warning against memorisation since 1985.

I find it very curious anyone should advocate that the Authority should have one policy on memorisation for English and a quite different one for Chinese.

If we had done nothing about this year's memorised work episode, we would have been severely criticised for inconsistency and unfairness - and rightly so! As far as your correspondent's second point about the lack of concrete evidence is concerned, this is, frankly, nonsense. The 584 candidates whose work was discounted had clearly memorised part or all of the model essays from the tutorial school.

There is a further point which I find far more worrying than any claims about unfairness in this particular incident. The letter states: 'After all, the exams are designed to test your memory rather than your understanding.' How is it that so many people believe this outrageous piece of misinformation? The question can be put another way: 'Why is it that so many people fervently believe the road to success in public examinations depends entirely on the ability to predict questions, memorise reams of material and frantically cram in the months leading up to the exams?' The answer lies in a simple confusion between what is visible and what is not.

The education process consists of many interwoven strands. The parts that are the most valuable to education for life and for gaining credits and distinctions in examinations are the least visible. What is visible is the cramming and rote memory work in the final months of exam preparations. Hence the confusion: if so many students engage in such practices this must mean they work! The truth is very different: the candidates who get credits and distinctions are, by and large, those who deserve them.

The Authority is dedicated to the notion that public examinations should have, as far as is humanly possibly, a positive washback effect on classroom teaching. Unfortunately, the rise in the 'tutorial school industry' in Hong Kong is designed to do just the opposite.

Too many of our students are looking for shortcuts.

There is no question, as your correspondent suggests, of the Authority avoiding its responsibilities. It will continue to do its utmost to ensure the public examinations are fair and promote sound educational principles.

R. F. KING Deputy Secretary Hong Kong Examinations Authority