26 sheep + 10 goats = a lot of flak over Chinese primary school maths exam question

Education authorities defend unusual test of pupils’ critical thinking

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 28 January, 2018, 12:53pm
UPDATED : Sunday, 28 January, 2018, 2:45pm

An education bureau in southwest China came out in defence of a primary school maths test when one of the questions flummoxed some online readers, a news website reported on the weekend.

Grade five pupils at a school in Nanchong, Sichuan province, were asked to determine the age of a ship’s captain if there were 26 sheep and 10 goats on the vessel, Scol.com.cn reported.

The pupils offered various responses.

“The captain should be at least 18 years old because a minor is not allowed by law to operate a vessel,” one answered.

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“The captain is 36 years old. He is quite narcissistic, so the number of animals corresponds to his age,” another pupil said.

A third child responded: “We cannot be sure of the captain’s age. The number of the sheep and goats is irrelevant to the captain’s age.”

The education bureau said there was no set answer to the question and its purpose was to test the pupils’ critical thinking.

“The role of education is not to produce standardised spare parts ... Each answer can reflect a different personality. A question that can have different answers is a good question,” it said.

The bureau said it would continue to set such questions, and welcomed feedback from the public.

But some online commenters dismissed the approach as nonsense.

“The question has nothing to do with mathematics ... It doesn’t test the pupils’ ability to understand maths,” one respondent said.