PUBLISHED : Saturday, 31 January, 2009, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 31 January, 2009, 12:00am

Multiple-choice exams are bad for students

A sense of poignancy caught me while reading about Philip Yeung's concern that the standards of English in Hong Kong would not improve until our exam system is reformed ('The monster devouring our English capability', January 22).

I periodically teach financial market laws. My students tell me their exams faithfully reflect the prevailing exam ethos. They ask multiple-choice questions and seem designed to eliminate independent, critical thinking.

It is without pride that I start each new class reminding students that to pass the exam they must put aside all thought of true understanding, of real-world prioritising or applicability and simply give the examiners what they want - a speedy and precise regurgitation of facts without regard to relative practical importance.

I leaven this dry diet with real-world stories of how the law is applied, as in reality the subject is important.

The combination of these two approaches results in a 95 per cent pass rate. But my advice remains: 'Check your brain at the door; if you wish to pass, regurgitate.' My students are highly motivated professionals, who must pass the exam as a job qualification. It is nonetheless debilitating for teacher and pupils to work in such a system, though the course is but four weeks. To endure a similar system in an ordinary school for years seems likely to breed indifference and functional incompetence in too many school leavers. I count myself very lucky my school years were not like that.

It is easy to criticise, but I would suggest a lesser focus on 'efficient examination' of measurable detail and a greater effort to cultivate an understanding of general principles might educate better. If that means less highly-specified syllabuses and paying examiners more to read essays rather than sticking sheets of paper into computer-read scoring systems, it is a price worth paying.

Paul Serfaty, Mid-Levels

Reputation for independence

Philip Bowring ('Separation anxiety', January 23) asserts that the Singapore judiciary is not independent and refers to libel suits in Singapore to support his assertion.

He implies that public figures who are vilified and smeared should not have recourse to the courts to protect their reputations.

We however believe that in a healthy democracy, it is important to uphold the honesty and accountability of the public discourse.

Only when a defamed person can vindicate his reputation and establish the facts in court, can the debate focus on competing philosophies, ideas and methods of governance.

The fact that foreign journalists like Bowring have lost defamation suits does not mean that the Singapore judiciary is compliant. The courts hear cases and render judgments in accordance with the laws of Singapore. Their judgments are published and can withstand any scrutiny.

That is why the latest World Economic Forum Global Competitiveness Report rated Singapore 19th out of 131 countries on independence of the judiciary from political influences, ahead of Japan, France, Luxembourg and the US.

Ang Seow Wei, deputy consul-general, consulate of Singapore, Hong Kong

Why this crisis is so serious

The financial crisis was caused predominately by imbalances in global savings. The large current account deficits of nations like the US lured savings from developing nations like China and some parts of the Arab world.

China fixed its exchange rate at an artificially low level and thus incurred increased savings via households and firms (hoarding profits of their trade). It was therefore in a position to lend money to the US, the very nation buying most of its goods, thereby, increasing the global savings deficit gap. Nations in the Arab world enjoyed the advantage of high oil prices for the past five years and so made and saved incredible windfalls.

America's low savings and the overabundance of savings in developing markets led to a situation where incentives for foreign capital investment existed. Also, being the world's largest economy there was an added incentive.

Just before the Asian financial crisis, emerging, developing and newly-industrialising nations had an aggregate deficit of US$78 billion. After the crisis, the deficit became a multibillion-dollar surplus.

However, this caused another crisis of a greater magnitude than before.

If the US had saved a bit more and China had a different policy regarding its exchange rate, we would not be facing the present predicament.

Luke Mansillo, Sydney, Australia

Let's be proud of our police

May I thank veteran police officer Johnny Lee Chi-ho ('Police morale is very high', January 24) and his colleagues for attempting the impossible and coming closer to achieving it than anyone could reasonably expect.

Recently, a body was lost, possibly in a landfill, finding it was an important, but almost hopeless and extremely unpleasant task. Who else but the police can we depend upon to take on such challenges? Perhaps the press concentrates on officers who have allegedly committed crimes because they are so rare.

In countries where the police are corrupt to the core few in the press will speak out.

However, we must not let the integrity and dedication of our police be undermined by a trickle of evil.

Therefore we must have transparent, independent and fair investigations of allegations, not because we don't trust and support the police, but because we do support them and want to continue to trust them.

Allan Dyer, Wong Chuk Hang

Backing tests

Proposals to introduce drug tests in schools have proved to be very controversial.

Concerns have been expressed about the fact that some students will be unfairly labelled.

Some teachers have also said that this scheme would damage their relationship with students if the teachers had to act because they suspected a pupil might be taking drugs.

Backers of the proposal argue that it will help identify problem students at an early stage.

It is extremely important if a young person is involved in drugs, that there is early intervention to ensure the student gets counselling and rehabilitation. Taking drugs can be a sign that a teenager has psychological problems.

The earlier these deep-rooted problems are identified the sooner and easier it will be to rectify them.

For these reasons I think the benefits of such a scheme would far outweigh the disadvantages. Therefore, I would support the proposal to have drug testing.

Katie Wong, Kwun Tong

Tougher laws

Drink-driving has caused tragedies in Hong Kong that could have been prevented.

People are killed and this impacts on the lives of the families of the victims.

The government has spent money to put out adverts urging people not to drink and drive.

However, I do not think it has gone far enough. The penalties for people found guilty of drink- driving should be increased.

If this was done it could act as a deterrent and the number of accidents on our roads would decrease.

Esther Ngai Hiu-lam, Sha Tin