Reviewing the Hong Kong education year, it seems that it started with a gaffe - and looks set to end with one. A gaffe, unlike a slur, an insult or outright attack, is more of a blunder than a deliberate act, but the consequences of making one should never be underestimated, especially in education, where what you say about what you're doing is almost as important as doing it - a point lost on many politicians here. Former permanent education secretary Fanny Law Fan Chiu-fun opened the proceedings responding to reporters' questions about whether reform-related stress had led to the suicides of two teachers within a few days of each other, by saying that if their deaths were related to the education reforms, 'why did only two teachers [commit suicide]?' It was only a few days more before teachers were to march, protesting both the reforms - and Mrs Law. Although dedicated to steering the much-needed changes through, she is likely to be remembered as much for her gaffe - and an earlier one referring to students who took their own lives as selfish and irresponsible - as for her acts. As the year-end looms we have Education Secretary Arthur Li Kwok-cheung's green apples. The word 'gaffe' comes from a French Provencal word meaning boat hook and it is not pretty to spear yourself on your own. Professor Li's hook was a tale of apples (for which you can read kindergarten vouchers) given to supposedly ungrateful children. Kindergarten professionals identified themselves and were less than amused at what they saw as a patronising attack. Gaffes are the stuff of legend, here and elsewhere. In the UK, for example, shadow higher education minister Boris Johnson came unstuck when he disparaged healthy school meals hero chef Jamie Oliver by saying he would 'get rid of him' if he were in power on the grounds that mothers had been 'driven to pushing pies through fences'. Post-1997, newly-appointed Labour-landslide education minister Stephen Byers blurted out in an interview that eight times seven was 54 (instead of 56) and had to be rescued by Tony Blair. In the US, former Harvard president Lawrence Summers fared worse and eventually resigned after suggesting that women were no good at maths and science, and presidential hopeful John Kerry punctured his balloon by warning students that if they neglected their education they 'might get stuck in Iraq'. There is no one to compare with the master, though - the 'gaffer' if you like - George Dubya himself, who, apart from being photographed in a pupils' reading class with his book upside down, said in Washington, DC, in 2004: 'You wake up at the high school level and find out that the illiteracy level of our children are appalling.' Happy Christmas.