Letters to the Editor, April 22, 2014
Students' threat of action is immature
I refer to the report ("Ignore us and we'll occupy: students", April 16).
The puerile demands of the student-led activist group Scholarism and the Federation of Students warning, as they tabled a joint reform proposal for the 2017 election, reflects more the mentality of the pram than the logic of intellectuals - don't give us what we want and we will sulk and occupy.
In their own words, "If the government rejects such a proposal, which could be endorsed by 100,000 residents, that would be [tantamount] to trampling on public opinion and insulting the public."
In a city of seven million, when did 100,000 become the majority? These young people can be admired for their courage to voice an opinion; however, their demands are flawed and immature.
Hong Kong is simply another city within China.
Armed with the benefit of an education, these students should be embracing the opportunities presented to them by a resurgent China. To imagine that our colonial past gives us a right to special treatment is folly.
Rather than waste energy on futile debate about a chief executive and 2017, the argument should be where Hong Kong will be in 2047 when the real challenge to our city's ability to be relevant within China will matter.
Mark Peaker, The Peak
People must learn to fight air pollution
Air pollution is a serious problem in Hong Kong and it is causing concern to a lot of citizens.
We frequently have days when the sky is grey and pollution levels are high because of emissions from enterprises on the mainland.
More factories open as China's economy becomes more developed, especially in and around Guangzhou. Pollution from these plants can easily drift into Hong Kong depending on the wind direction.
These problems are exacerbated by the growing number of private cars in Hong Kong. I think they are a bigger cause of roadside pollution than public transport. I don't know why people keep taking their cars when it would be possible to go on a bus or the MTR.
This pollution causes a lot of damage in health terms, especially with respiratory diseases.
The problem can be eased with co-operation between Hong Kong and the mainland.
I also think education is extremely important.
It can lead to Hongkongers having a greater awareness of pollution and what steps they can take to reduce it.
Alva Hui Wing-man, Tai Wai
Dictation is an essential tool for teachers
In the letter "Our schools can teach English better and not bore our children" (April 8), Tony Yuen spoke for most of the parents in Hong Kong. Here I wish to speak as a student who has gone through the local curriculum and had myriad dictations.
First off, I am afraid Yuen overlooked the fact that most schools in Hong Kong have their internal assessments handwritten. This is also the case with public examinations like the Hong Kong Diploma of Secondary Education.
I believe it is invalid to say that "poor spelling skills do not affect the ability to write" because word processing software that Yuen mentioned is restricted in classrooms.
The reading habit of Yuen's son is worth appreciation (I, too, enjoyed the Nancy Drew novels when I was young.) But I am not convinced that every pupil in Hong Kong is as capable as he is.
Students' ability and motivation differs in every classroom.
Many students may be unlikely to read or become involved in revision if there are no assessments. In addition, dictation is not merely about spelling.
It also helps students master diversified sentence patterns and grammar. True, word processing software corrects spelling mistakes, but it does not add to the variety of vocabulary and phrases.
How can beginners who refuse to read on their own initiative apply acquire terms in daily use without relying on memorisation?
As an undergraduate majoring in English education, I regard catering to these students with regular formative assessments as one of the major responsibilities of teachers.
On top of everything, my experience tells me that dictation need not lead to children losing interest.
I had an English teacher who made dictation more like a game.
For example, we were asked to list as many MTR station names or as many words ending with "able".
He was successful in stimulating me to learn the spelling of every word I encountered, by heart, because we were never informed of the next dictation topic.
Dictation need not be dull; it depends on the format adopted by the teacher.
Students always prefer constant and detailed feedback to superficial overviews of their performance.
They also long for teachers who realise if they have shown a marked improvement, and compliment them.
Dictation results are the best way to determine if a student has progressed or gone backwards.
It is essential in classrooms and is never "outdated".
Melanie Oh, Lam Tin
Not a sensible use of resources
I do not think that dictation in schools is really all that important because I do not think it helps students a lot.
It is not adopted in countries which have education systems that are held in high regard, such as Canada and the Netherlands. In those countries educators do not feel that the students need dictation and it is felt to be a waste of time.
As long as they are attentive and listen to what is being said in class they can learn, but dictation does not aid the learning process.
I do accept that it can help some students to improve their spelling skills when they encounter a very difficult word, but it is better to write the word as part of a sentence and then you will have a better chance of remembering it and what it means within the context of that sentence.
Dictation exercises are very time-consuming and waste the time of students and of teachers.
It certainly does not help those youngsters who do not do revision at home and do not listen to teachers.
If they are learning nothing from dictation, then it is surely a waste of resources.
However, many Hong Kong parents still think it is vital and expect it to be part of a school's curriculum. There may therefore be a case for continuing with it in primary schools, because when they are very young children can retain a great deal of material and can learn a lot of vocabulary.
However, I cannot see a case for continuing with dictation exercises in secondary schools, where students already face a very heavy workload in the evenings after school.
Also, they should already have a grasp of basic vocabulary and should be involved in more productive studies.
Trista Wong, Tseung Kwan O
No need for huge outlay of materials
I refer to the letter by Germaine Lau of the Savantas Policy Institute ("Liberal studies has failed as a core subject", April 15).
Ms Lau makes interesting comparisons between some demotivating aspects of current classroom practice and the approach taken by the International Baccalaureate in its theory of knowledge course. Ms Lau said that in order to adopt a different approach, "local schools may not be able to afford the resources required".
Theory of knowledge methodology, or simply thinking widely about how it is that we know what we claim to know, does not necessarily require a huge outlay of materials; but it does require imagination and a non-prescriptive openness as to where inquiry might lead.
Whether as a teacher of senior students at diploma level or when working with Form Three students, I have often taken as a starting point an artefact or place of interest in Hong Kong, such as for example the Sung Wong Toi stone on the old shoreline of To Kwa Wan, and encouraged students to research as many aspects of the artefact as they were able. Why was the stone there? Why has the shoreline changed? Who were the Song emperors?
In a subject area like liberal studies, no single approach to my mind should dictate teaching methodology, but an approach that lends itself to inquiry-based interdisciplinary work is certainly no less rigorous than telling students in advance what is important and then asking them to regurgitate it in an examination.
Paul Tattam, Sha Tin
Reality check needed over risky influx
It is laughable to hear officials speak of building more facilities to accommodate an ever increasing number of mainland visitors, to enable us to allow in more tourists.
They don't seem to realise that without a meaningful control on arrivals, new facilities will only attract even more tourists to come, making it an even more explosive situation.
An analogy is that of a small house in a town whose owner sends an open invitation for anyone in that town to visit and, lo and behold, half the town showed up. The owner then decides to build another level plus a basement to accommodate the friendly visitors, who keep coming in higher and higher numbers, filling up any additional structure. Eventually the house collapses under the weight of the visitors.
The chief executive's warning of retaliation by the mainland if we restrict entry of visitors is nonsense. Hong Kong is like a small pond linked to the ocean - the mainland. Water flowing from the pond to the ocean is insignificant, but ocean water rushing into the pond is a tsunami.
J. Wong, Wan Chai