Baptist University students should go back to primary school

Their protest against being given a fail mark in what is an easy Mandarin test serves only to highlight their linguistic incompetence

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 23 January, 2018, 2:25am
UPDATED : Friday, 26 January, 2018, 9:39am

A group of angry students stormed the Baptist University language centre, then threatened and harassed its staff for more than eight hours. By now, you have probably seen a video clip, which has gone viral, showing how student union president Lau Tsz-kei and others physically intimidated staff and shouted obscenities at them.

The students were upset that 70 per cent of those who took a recent Mandarin exam flunked it and demanded to be shown the exam-marking instructions.

That piqued my curiosity about the test itself. Was it a nefarious ploy by school administers with a pro-China agenda to deliberately make it so tough that few would pass it and everyone else would be forced to take mandatory classes in the “communist” language to graduate? I downloaded a test sample. What shocked me was how easy it was as to be almost laughable. The first part is to read aloud a short passage. The sample I have is about a family taking a walk in the countryside, written at a level of Chinese you would encounter in a textbook for primary schoolers. 

The second involves picking out phrases and sentences that are typical of either Cantonese or Mandarin. One or the other: you would pass even if you only knew Cantonese!

The third part, however, is my favourite. It presents several situations in which you are required to make a polite or presentable response in Mandarin. Examples include placating an angry customer at a restaurant if you are a waiter; and giving a short speech on taking every opportunity to practise writing Chinese words by hand instead of relying on keyboard typing, often assisted by language software. 

Well, given the level of rudeness and aggressiveness typical of many of our student leaders today, I can understand why some may fail this part of the test; shouting obscenities at your customer or lecture audience just won’t do.

Baptist University president hits out at ‘unruly’ student protest over Mandarin test

Joking aside, it’s hard to see how any university student could fail such an easy test. Perhaps they didn’t care or were boycotting a test they considered unnecessary or unjustified. Yes, the student union objected to making Mandarin mandatory. They also seemed to think the exam markers were deliberately harsh in their grading. But if the administration has bent over backwards to make the test easy, it’s hard to see why that should be true. I shudder to consider the most obvious explanation … about the linguistic competence of some university students.