PUBLISHED : Friday, 10 July, 2009, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 10 July, 2009, 12:00am

'Chicken and egg' statement confounds rational debate

From unnecessary arrogance to being oblivious to the obvious coincidences of our world, Virginia Yue confounds rational debate ('Egg came before bird with sharp beak', Education Post, July 3).

Her statement on whether the chicken or the egg came first - 'the question shows a lack of knowledge of the topic' - summarily dismisses the need for teachers. Why do we need teachers if a student is supposed to come to the obvious conclusion alone? Oh, I forgot. Teachers are the ones giving the correct conclusions as none can confess any errors. Then again, why ask any question if the response is one of condescension, self-pride and belittlement?

Opponents of intelligent design cannot articulate what they are arguing against. Case in point is the question Ms Yue asks: 'What are the extreme numbers of coincidences that make life on earth possible?'

How can anyone argue against a philosophy he or she knows very little about? Meanwhile, science is still looking into subatomic particles and cannot claim to have all the answers, either in this area or for exactly how life came about. I wonder if evolution proponents ever consider how the universe began or theories for how the Big Bang came about. Maybe we are all just cosmic accidents of a self-creating universe.

Is it a coincidence that the earth is just the right distance from the sun, not too close or too far away? The earth is tilted on its axis and one effect of this is that most of the planet can support life.

Is it at all odd that we have such a vast collection of metals on earth and great reserves of oil? Even the amount and properties of water on earth help to sustain life here.

The coincidences go on but we dare not ask questions directly of those who have all the answers lest they sharply rebuke us. I hope that our students in schools here fare better, but I wonder. Oh, I'm sorry - I'm not supposed to do that.


Keep religion and science separate

After reading 'Creationism rejected in new guidelines on the biology curriculum' (Education Post, June 26), I would like to express my opinion regarding mixing science and religion in the same subject as taught in Hong Kong schools.

Science and religion are different points of view on phenomena. If one party tries to trespass on the domain of the other, it is infringing the rights of the other party. Science and religion treat a topic with entirely opposite approaches.

Science does not begin with a conclusion. Science starts from observation of a phenomenon, then puts in several hypotheses trying to explain it. Through a series of logical and experimental analyses, each hypothesis is assessed with plausibility and evidence. Then a conclusion is tentatively drawn as a theory.

The theory is never proclaimed to be 'the only truth'. Any new experiments or findings could lead to revision of the theory. The best example is Einstein's theory of relativity that amends Newton's laws of motion. As new technologies arise, someone could likewise revise Einstein's theories. This is the path that science is taking.

Religion, on the other hand, goes the opposite way. Religion begins with a conclusion that God created the universe. Then religion attempts to find any phenomena that support this conclusion. Anything found supportive will be publicised but anything found contrary to the conclusion will be kept unmentioned. This approach is obviously not a scientific approach.

I would support the motion that creationism and intelligent design should not exist in the biology curriculum. Likewise, any science subjects should not mix with religious beliefs, and vice versa.


English losing ground in HK

People are criticising poor English standards due to the Chinglish signs used at the frequently visited Central Pier. Some say it is because English has become less relevant in some commercial sectors, while others say English is not taught properly at school. I do not quite see these as the main culprits as the workplace and education situations in which adults and school students use English are more or less the same.

The reason is the attitude towards English in Hong Kong. Without doubt, the importance of English has gone down since the handover, with more and more people seeing Putonghua as more vital in daily life. We have never watched more Taiwanese sitcoms, sung more Mandarin pop songs or listened to more Putonghua news.

English is seen as a not-so-useful and hard-to-learn language by most people, particularly children. It is safe to assume that the government officers responsible for the pier signs would not take the properness of the language's use seriously. Would anyone have made such a mistake had they looked words up in a dictionary or asked someone with an English degree? That's not a problem of language proficiency. It is more of an attitude problem because there are always some people who can speak good English and you can ask for help.

RYAN LAI, Tuen Mun

Mixed-ability classes simply do not work

Many people in Hong Kong believe that 'labelling' will cease if you put students of mixed ability together. This may sound logical and the humane thing to do, but that doesn't make it true.

It only takes a few minutes of research on the internet to confirm what I've already learned in more than 12 years of teaching English as a second language: mixed-ability classes do not work. The difference in ability holds the class back, allowing neither the advanced nor the weaker students to progress because the teacher must focus on the 'middle ability' students.

A local educator came up with the cute slogan 'catering to individual differences', which sounds good in theory but in practice is a disaster. Here's an example of a typical English class scenario - 35 to 40 students of three levels (high, medium, low) in a primary class that lasts only 35 minutes. The teacher is supposed to conduct a lesson that covers all three ability groups in that short time. In the past four years of teaching at a school where the principal insists that we conduct mixed-ability classes, I have not witnessed a single class where this lofty goal has been accomplished. There simply is not enough time.

The truth is that this programme looks good on paper and appeases worried parents but it does not help children to learn English. Advanced students get bored because they are not being challenged and lower-ability students never get the foundation they need. It is disheartening to have Primary Six students who cannot introduce themselves in a complete sentence.

Do naive administrators and parents who support mixed-ability teaching really think that labelling stops in such classrooms? Wrong! Nothing embarrasses a child more than being unable to answer a simple question that 95 per cent of the class already knows. So many universities and schools around the world have proven that this does not work. It is time for some honesty in our education system.