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PUBLISHED : Saturday, 03 March, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 03 March, 2007, 12:00am

Guidelines unclear in oral exams a grey area

Graham Kennedy's responses to criticisms of the new English oral exam for HKCEE students highlight an issue I presented in my original letter: guidelines on scoring are unclear, as are other aspects of the individual presentation.

Mr Kennedy said the examiners may ask another question if they feel their initial one is too difficult. What should examiners do when faced with the following situations?

In asking a student 'why should home safety be stressed by parents', can the candidate reply by saying, 'I'm sorry, I do not understand; please ask me another question'? If so, does the candidate get rewarded for using proper English? If not, should the candidate remain silent until the examiner initiates the second question and display an inability to display 'everyday communicative' skills?

If a candidate speaks for a full 60 seconds but gives the wrong answer, what mark should be given? Students who attended oral practice in my school recently and who scored three out of five in the discussion were asked: 'What drink is least suitable?' But then answered the drink that they felt was most suitable. Is there a point in the 60 seconds that the examiner should intervene and stop the candidate?

If so, does he repeat the question verbatim, reword the question or ask another one? Or should the candidate speak freely? If so, are marks seriously deducted for answering the question wrongly? Or is the candidate assessed solely on his/her ability to use 'everyday communicative' language? If the candidate is not penalised, does that mean a correct answer is irrelevant?

In the HKAL exam, candidates are required to speak for at least 75 per cent of the two minutes allotted them so as to not lose marks. Does this rule apply to the CE exam? Or must a candidate speak for, say, 55 seconds to avoid losing marks? If candidates need to speak for only for 45 seconds, should they be encouraged to think for 10 seconds at the start of the answer time before answering the examiner?

These questions are issues that have been faced by my colleagues and me who examine up to 40 students each day. We are going on what little information we have and trying to make the most of the situation.

While I wholeheartedly agree that this examination is better in that it does away with students' memorising of formulaic expressions, the examiners are indeed groping in the dark.

Mr Kennedy seems to have full confidence in the exams. Yet details on how to administer them have not trickled down to the very people who will conduct them with their students.


Small is beautiful when it comes to class sizes

It seems the Hong Kong education system finally is on the right track over smaller class sizes. Coming from a large public secondary school in the US to a smaller international secondary school in Hong Kong, I realise the importance of smaller class sizes. To me it has become crucial to have communication with my teachers, and I was able to find this only in the smaller classes.

The larger the class size, the less I learned and the more hesitant I was to speak up. Smaller class sizes also let the teacher interact more with students, which is important to growth and learning. The closer relationship helps the teacher understand what more the student may need in their learning, which would be impossible to accommodate in a bigger class.


Tai Tam

Luk before you leap over the HKIEd affair

Now that it is no longer politically opportune for Arthur Li Kwok-cheung to 'donate' HKIEd to his former employers, Chinese University, the best solution is to redevelop this prime real estate into a luxury housing complex with townhouses and apartments from HK$20 million. Named 'Tintagel', it could compete with other elite, prestigious developments in the area that peddle a similar sense of imperial grandeur and regal exclusivity. The former Presidential Lodge (now Institute Lodge) could be re-titled 'Morris's Folly', after its independence-minded president. Similarly, any romantic mountain crag nearby could be designated 'Luk's Leap' in honour of the departing vice-president. A top-secret phone system with voice encryption would enable building management to issue covert warnings to flat dwellers about any deviation from residential writ.

Professor Li certainly will be available to take up a seat on the board of the relevant development company, Legends Inc. HKIEd staff and students can then be redeployed as construction workers and security guards.


Ma On Shan

Childhood has edge on language barrier

I agree with Eden Antos (Education Post, February 10) in that second languages should be taught from a young age. Schools should offer more extensive language programmes, offering more choices including English. Another good way of learning a language is to be surrounded and immersed in it. Programmes could be set up to allow exchange students to travel to different countries of the language they are studying. This immersion helps to solidify language skills and make use of what the student has learned. If the student has been learning a language from a young age, they will already be confident in that language.


Tai Tam