Test culture makes love of learning a waste

Test culture makes love of learning a waste

Created: 2013-3-18

Author:Wan Linxin

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RECENTLY while taking a stroll along nearby Weihai Road near Yan’an Road, I found a number of fashionable shops were closed and being remodeled. These shops come and go, and I would never have noticed them if they were not disappearing. But surprisingly, the opposite Jing’an Book Club remained open. It always puzzles me how any entity today can pretend not to care about turning a good profit. If it were not for the shelves of books, the club might well pass for an exclusive lobby, complete with beige lounges, fancy stools, long ivory-colored tables, all tastefully arranged in an ornate setting. No book reader can help being a bit flattered to be admitted – freely – into such a cultured milieu, at a time when brick-and-mortar bookstores are retreating or vanishing. The flagship Jifeng Bookstore in Shanxi Road S. metro station announced early this month it would close and move to another location after 15 years of operation, even though the rentals for the bookstore were only 10 percent the normal rates, for the bookstore had been seen somewhat as part of Shanghai’s cultural scene. Often have I strolled into this classy book club, and rarely did I find many readers. On the door was a notice to the effect that students can be admitted after 3pm by showing a pass issued by the club.

Of course, no one expects students to be readers. They are there doing their homework. I usually gave my third grader son a pat on the shoulder if he successfully prevents his homework from invading his sleep hours. One colleague of mine said that homework typically keeps his daughter busy until 10pm. My son has shown early promise of being an avid reader, but he has little time for reading, being perennially busy cracking problems meant to, among other things, assess his Chinese vocabulary, comprehension, and analytical skills. These ingeniously designed test items – cloze, multiple choice, summary – reduce to an ordeal a process that should be inspiring, exhilarating, and enchanting.Uncontrolled reading that does not lend itself to assessment is generally viewed as a threat to good scores. A son of a friend of mine has been studying a elementary school composition guide since his second grade. Although very few Chinese teachers today – as every other Chinese – have time for reading, they are competently acquainted with the technical requirements of a standard composition.

Revealing surveys

Two years ago, Shanghai Normal University conducted a survey on reading habits of 522 form masters in 22 primary schools in Shanghai, and found that those surveyed read annually an average of less than seven books not directly pertinent to their course of instruction (Wenhui Daily, February 21).

A similar survey in Beijing in 2007 of more than 1,000 primary and middle school teachers in Beijing found that half of the surveyed spent less than 30 minutes on reading books on an average day.

Nobel Laureate in Literature Mo Yan once wrote that his middle school daughter often came to him for some questions in the Chinese textbook, and Mo found he had to be vague in his answers, cautioning his daughter she should take the teachers’ answers as authoritative.

The daughter of Ye Kai, an senior editor of the Harvest magazine, once one of the best literary magazines in China, is a voracious reader, but her composition scores are unsatisfactory.

How can a teacher who does not read or write assess other’s writings competently? Ye wondered.

But this system has developed momentum that is hard to resist.

Failed experiment

Qian Liqun, a prestigious professor from Beijing University, unsatisfied with the current system, upon his retirement in 2002 decided to experiment with Chinese language learning that “goes to the heart,” by teaching middle schools in his own style.

His lectures were first well received, but gradually they languished unattended.

One student wrote to him explaining that “it’s not that we dislike your instruction, but that what you taught has nothing to do with the college entrance examination. Given our limited time, I would rather attend your class after being admitted to Beijing University.”

But Qian believed that soon nothing not related to employment would have any chance of being allowed at Chinese universities.

After suffering repeated setbacks, Qian gave up the experiment last year. It pained him to find that the test-oriented education system has been so entrenched that it has become “the sum and total of our education.”

“Not only educators use tests in assessment, it has also made students and parents highly self-disciplined in this regard,” Qian said. He deplored that “test-oriented education has become so overwhelming, that whatever kind of non-test-oriented education has no hope of gaining a foothold there.”

About bambooinnovator
Kee Koon Boon (“KB”) is the co-founder and director of HERO Investment Management which provides specialized fund management and investment advisory services to the ARCHEA Asia HERO Innovators Fund (www.heroinnovator.com), the only Asian SMID-cap tech-focused fund in the industry. KB is an internationally featured investor rooted in the principles of value investing for over a decade as a fund manager and analyst in the Asian capital markets who started his career at a boutique hedge fund in Singapore where he was with the firm since 2002 and was also part of the core investment committee in significantly outperforming the index in the 10-year-plus-old flagship Asian fund. He was also the portfolio manager for Asia-Pacific equities at Korea’s largest mutual fund company. Prior to setting up the H.E.R.O. Innovators Fund, KB was the Chief Investment Officer & CEO of a Singapore Registered Fund Management Company (RFMC) where he is responsible for listed Asian equity investments. KB had taught accounting at the Singapore Management University (SMU) as a faculty member and also pioneered the 15-week course on Accounting Fraud in Asia as an official module at SMU. KB remains grateful and honored to be invited by Singapore’s financial regulator Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) to present to their top management team about implementing a world’s first fact-based forward-looking fraud detection framework to bring about benefits for the capital markets in Singapore and for the public and investment community. KB also served the community in sharing his insights in writing articles about value investing and corporate governance in the media that include Business Times, Straits Times, Jakarta Post, Manual of Ideas, Investopedia, TedXWallStreet. He had also presented in top investment, banking and finance conferences in America, Italy, Sydney, Cape Town, HK, China. He has trained CEOs, entrepreneurs, CFOs, management executives in business strategy & business model innovation in Singapore, HK and China.

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