PUBLISHED : Thursday, 11 May, 2006, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 11 May, 2006, 12:00am

Q Should phones and PDAs be banned from exams?

As a high school teacher of English and other languages for more than 40 years, I must say that the current English exam scam is really down to the poor setting of exam questions. Cheating has always been around, and with new technology will only increase.

The type of question where a mobile phone can be used to get answers shows the examiner is not really testing the students' level in English. I always set questions where it would be impossible to cheat: ones where thought is required or where sentences need to be written. The type of questions where a one-word answer is needed has no place in a test at this level. This type of question is endemic in Asia, particularly Japan, where the right cram school will kindly provide the answers for the fiercely competitive university entrance exam. This testing method does not test a student's English ability and should be discarded as well in Hong Kong.

The examiner should include in this exam a passage in Chinese which should be translated into English. Students in Shenzhen reveal clearly to me that their weakness is mostly in verb usage and few can write even one sentence accurately. Listening to Chinese 'academics' in Hong Kong only convinces me that they were successful exam takers, not really able to write a correct sentence, or even produce one orally. Let's get rid of the university's BEd courses in English. They are only exacerbating this problem by teaching about English instead of the subject itself.

There are too many average students getting into university to study English. Their teachers often can't speak fluently (and I know some Filipinos and Malaysians whose English is very acceptable to me; some Singaporeans here have an accent problem) and what is more distressing, can't write well.

You learn any foreign language (for exam purposes) by reading thoroughly in that language, but not potted versions. I read the Chinese newspapers and pick up all sorts of words. I read Japanese from the Japanese newspaper Asahi Shimbun, which would be on a par with the London Times, in my opinion the best written English newspaper in the world. You must read well-written prose to learn English thoroughly, and an examination at the level of last week's fiasco demonstrates that the examiner is pandering to the very average. Let's have a passage from Jane Austen and Charles Dickens to test our students.

Name and address supplied

I have never heard of anything more preposterous than the Hong Kong Examinations and Assessment Authority (HKEAA) being criticised by legislators for having 'enabled students to cheat'. How can legislators be so narrow-minded?

The issues that truly need addressing are:

1. Invigilators should be more vigilant about what is being taken into lavatories (the HKEAA has responded with action, and more can be done to ensure this).

2. Centre supervisors must instruct students to place their mobile phones in full view under chairs. Any student found not in compliance would receive a mark penalty (which the HKEAA has responded to a certain extent).

It is stipulated very clearly in the HKEAA student handbook: 'Make sure ... mobile phones are taken out from your pockets. If ... found in your pocket/on your body during the examination, you may receive mark penalties or even be disqualified.'

It seems today we are all too willing to point fingers without assessing who is truly to blame. Anyone who argues that the internet addresses provide the students the opportunity to cheat needs to have their head checked.

Name and address supplied

On other matters...

The news that soaring fuel bills have forced more than 80 per cent of Hong Kong's South China Sea fishing fleet to stay moored in typhoon shelters (SCMP, May 9), has given me some hope. While I have a lot of sympathy for the fishermen's plight, the figures mentioned in May Chan's article provide a clear picture - the fishing industry, as it stands, is economically unviable. The recent rise in fuel prices has doubtless brought matters to a head, but the underlying problem is too many boats chasing too few fish.

Local fish stocks have been decimated by the relentless trawling with little to show but juvenile fish destined to be minced for fish food and fed to the fish farms where a higher value product can be grown. The result of this unsustainable practice is that trawlers must roam ever greater distances in order to return with a marketable catch. No wonder fishermen are falling victim to higher fuel costs.

The solution to the problems of legislator Wong Yung-kan's constituents is not government support for an ailing industry. Instead, let it die a natural death or shrink to a sustainable scale. Any government subsidy to the industry in its present bloated state will only accelerate its inevitable collapse both economically and ecologically.

Government intervention should be confined to assisting, indeed encouraging, those in the fishing industry to seek employment elsewhere, while maximising efforts to rebuild Hong Kong's beleaguered fish stocks such that the boats that remain can net a viable catch.

This is no small nor inexpensive undertaking, but would have the long-term benefit of securing the future of the industry and reducing the legacy of bankrupt fishing families. So it is my hope that faced with the clear evidence that commercial fishing is unsustainable, Secretary for Health, Welfare and Food York Chow Yat-ngok will not succumb to any 'quick-fix' cash handouts and instead chart a new course for this sector of the community.

Bruce Stephens, Lantau