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Fostering creativity in the classroom

Air China

After reading the article 'Children need more fun, seminar told' (May 27), I could not help but reflect positively on my upbringing in New Zealand. Although tiny compared with its Asia-Pacific neighbours, New Zealand boasts a disproportionately high level of innovative talent. The 'copycat' culture that pervades certain Asian nations is an anathema.

New Zealand's education system, which is a product of its liberal ethos, fosters independent thought and creativity through contextual and application-based learning. Primary- school children are encouraged to write creative stories and read fiction to foster their imagination, to own pets to nurture their sense of responsibility, to come up with new ways of caring for the environment to unlock their social consciences, and to take part in music and drama. They are encouraged to take part in classroom discussions. Needless to say, physical activity is important.

The reading and writing skills of children in New Zealand are among the best in the world. Although they may not be as advanced as their Hong Kong counterparts in subjects such as mathematics, they are positioned to compete in the high-skilled jobs market by a culture that encourages independent thought, creativity and assertiveness.


Cantonese on offer

I refer to the letter 'More Cantonese, please' (May 26) on the perceived lack of suitable courses in Cantonese.

In fact, affordable, government-sponsored Cantonese classes are provided on behalf of the Home Affairs Bureau by Caritas, Christian Action and the International Social Service (Hong Kong). They are primarily for foreign domestic helpers and residents of South and Southeast Asian communities, with the content, locations and times designed to suit their needs.

Most of our clientele are financially disadvantaged and our course fees reflect that, costing $100 for 50 one-hour classes. Non-Chinese speakers from more affluent communities are welcome to join but we hope that they understand that our target clientele must have first priority should places be in short supply.

The courses cover spoken and written skills from the basic to the advanced level. They are carefully designed to include real-life situations and to develop students' interaction skills and ability to search for jobs.

JOHN DEAN, for the secretary for home affairs, Home Affairs Bureau

Photo focus disturbs

I make an appeal to those responsible for the photographs in the South China Morning Post lately. On May 17, a front-page photograph showed a desperate prisoner in Brazil being held hostage, with two people tied up on the ground in front of him. Last week, a photograph revealed the aftermath of an ambush on police in East Timor. A few months ago, Hong Kong policemen were shown in similar circumstances in Tsim Sha Tsui.

Perhaps before we publish a photo in a newspaper, we should ask whether we would like to see pictures of those close to us in such tragic, undignified circumstances.


Lives we can save

The letter 'Descent into savagery' (May 27) is correct in asserting that 'the value accorded to life is the fine line between civilisation and savagery'. Referring to the death of British climber David Sharp, the writer points out that 'perhaps one person alone could not have saved a life but a group of people may have succeeded'.

Why has his death caught the attention of the media and the public? Is it because we know his name or because we would have tried to save him had we been walking past?

Sharp was able to afford the US$50,000 or so to be an ecotourist and put himself into the death zone on Mount Everest. What about the 16,000 or so people who starve to death around the world every day? There are no letters about them.

What about the three or so people who commit suicide every day in Hong Kong? What about the 35 per cent of local teenagers who at some point think about suicide? According to the letter writer's definition, we, too, are savages. We seem unconcerned when, as a group, we may be able to prevent some deaths. The loss of even one life, including that of Sharp, is regrettable. As a community, we still have time to save lives not yet lost, but do we have the vision, commitment and humanity?


Surcharge unavoidable

In response to the letter 'Fuelled by greed' (May 26), I would like to make it clear that Cathay Pacific Airways finds it regrettable that fuel surcharges have to be levied at all. The reason for them is, quite simply, the spiralling cost of fuel. Many airlines are already levying fuel surcharges of US$66 to US$89 for long-haul flights, compared with the US$57.80 Cathay Pacific will charge from next month.

Since the surcharges were introduced in June 2004 against a background of rapidly rising costs, they have offset less than half of the additional fuel cost.

Like any business, we have to balance the interests of our customers with the need to run a cost-efficient airline in the interests of our staff and shareholders. We are working hard to pare down all our overheads to remain competitive and maintain the level of service our customers expect at a price they are prepared to pay.

ALAN WONG, general manager, corporate communications, Cathay Pacific Airways