PUBLISHED : Saturday, 04 April, 2009, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 04 April, 2009, 12:00am

Blaming others for mistakes in English exam is immature and unfair

I am a Form Seven student sitting this year's A-levels and I would like to respond to the online rage of fellow candidates over a 'confusing' composition topic in the Use of English examination. Candidates were asked to decide whether to donate money for space exploration or improvement of healthcare and education in China.

Many candidates mistakenly thought that 'space exploration' meant 'opening up new land' and 'developing inland areas', and are now threatening to complain to the Hong Kong Examinations and Assessment Authority.

But is this really a fair accusation or really an injustice being done to these candidates? I think not. Pointing fingers at others when their own substandard English levels are to blame is surely quite immature.

Space exploration is simply not the way we say 'open up new land' in 'authentic' English. Yes, space may mean land, and exploration can mean 'discover new places' in Chinese but the point of language studies is that you cannot simply substitute one language for another word for word. The angry candidates want an explanation but there can be none - it is just the way English works, just as there are some inexplicable expressions in Chinese that baffle foreigners. This misinterpretation arises out of a lack of immersion and understanding of English.

I strongly advise candidates to read more English newspapers (why, reading the SCMP is an excellent way to learn English) to increase exposure to the everyday usage of English. You will be less tempted to break words apart in your interpretation then.

One final note: many of my friends got it wrong and I sympathise with them, but it still does not distract from the fact that the so-called 'alternative interpretation' is simply wrong. I do hope that the HKEAA will not give in to public pressure and will instead strive to uphold our ever-declining English standards.


Creationism and science are not compatible

I refer to the letter on 28-March-2009 by Kwen Ip ('Creationism row has offered nothing new').

The common tactics of creationism proponents is to play on the misguided notion of 'opening minds' or 'encouraging students to ask the right questions', and arguing that teaching the theory of evolution as the explanation to the origins of life and species on earth is 'spoon feeding'.

First of all, science is not about the 'version of knowledge we subscribe to'. Science is the body of knowledge that has withstood numerous tests and falsifications (tests that attempt to overturn theories). It is substantiated by evidence and works remarkably in offering explanations and predictions. The body of knowledge is consistent and constantly updated in the light of new evidence. Science classes are never about 'knowledge we subscribe to', but knowledge acquired via scientific methods.

Secondly, sciences are not the imputation of meaning from a set of observed data.

I urge Mr Ip and others to really research the definition of science.

Their notion, if allowed in schools, will send us back to 500 years ago when 'science' was primitive and laced with superstition.

Thirdly, even scientific theory can change to reflect a better understanding of the world. Do not justify creationism as something to be taught in science classes - it is simply a religious view. Fourthly, not all ideas can be treated as equals. In science classes, ideas like creationism that cannot stand the scrutiny of scientific method are not discussed because there are thousands of such ideas that will clutter our classes.

Finally, if creationism proponents like Kwen Ip insist on teaching creationism or Intelligent Design, then in addition the teachers must show students how unscientific these two sets of ideas are, how those proponents avoid scientific scrutiny by manufacturing public opinion and spreading misinformation and how they lied by saying creationism and Intelligent Design are scientific theories when in fact the two notions are pure conjecture, untested. Teachers should show students how both of them are debunked by the most updated scientific evidence.


Christian right is turning schools into pulpits

If further evidence of the misuse of office by Christian fundamentalist school staff was required, they have just provided it at Tai Po Sam Yuk Secondary School, which now sports huge and highly prominent banners seeking to strengthen the Control of Obscene and Indecent Articles Ordinance.

The banners carry the words: 'Lobby the government to strictly review the Control of Obscene and Indecent Articles Ordinance; protect young people and kids' minds from being distorted by pornography and violent information'.

Is it not time that the Education Bureau awoke from its torpor and recognised the public unease at the political activities of the fundamentalist right within our education system?

The bureau has allowed the teaching of creationism in science classes to sully Hong Kong's reputation and now seems content to sit by while the religious right turns schools into bully pulpits. It owes the public an answer.