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A rant about publics schools here...

Diqiucun_Cunmin
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5/31/2014 11:27:31 AM
Posted: 2 years ago
I don't know if the situation in parallel in other countries, but I really feel that the way Hong Kong public schools teach simply doesn't work! I wonder if public schools in other countries face the same problems.

The prevalence of tutorial schools in Hong Kong has come under fire, and it's mostly the parents or students who take the blame. They always say, 'if you pay attention in school and study hard after school, then you'll have no problem excelling the DSE (our college entrance exam).' I used to believe in that too, but I'm now vehemently opposed to this specious statement.

Before I continue my rant, I'd like to give a counterexample: my economics teacher. He's easily the best teacher by whom I've ever been taught, and it's not just because he considers me his star student in my class. He knows the curriculum like the back of his hand. He has sorted all the past papers from 1990 onwards by topic for us to do. In class, after teaching each topic, he teaches us using exercises he prepared himself, some questions taken from exercise books found in bookstores, others remade from past paper questions. He's more familiar with the HKEAA's (our exam board) marking scheme than the publishesr, though, and modifies the marking schemes accordingly. The marking scheme changes from year to year, so he combined the points required each year (in the last 25 years) to create a comprehensive, all-encompassing marking scheme. He analyses past paper trends, and shows us the traps that the HKEAA has lain before.

Unfortunately, most of the teachers in public schools simply aren't like that. I'm aware that my school has it better than most public schools in the New Territories, and I do feel grateful for that, but even so, I can see clear flaws in the way we are taught. Take the vice principal, who teaches my class maths, as an example. He is a teacher for whom I hold the deepest respect. He often toils until 5am in the morning to prepare for the lesson on the next day. He prints additional exercises for us to do, and comes up to our classroom whenever he has time, in order to teach us maths.

However, I don't think he is doing it the right way. For example, he recently taught us dispersion in statistics. When he taught standard deviation, he drew tables of the 'deviation' of each datum from the mean (datum - mean) ^ 2, then used the squiggly snake indicating summation (it's not even required in the core curriculum) to add them together, then finally divided the sum by the number of data to form the variance, then finally used a square root to find SD... He essentially used 1/4 of the blackboard for each question. In reality, the only things we really need to do about SD and variance are: a) memorise the formulae and b) learn to use the calculator's statistic mode.

Then there was a section called 'effects of changes in data on measures of dispersion'. It was simple: when you add a datum to the set, if the datum is close to the mean, the SD decreases, and vice versa. When you remove a datum from the set, if the datum is close to the mean, the SD increases, and vice versa. That's very simple to understand by rote memorisation, but, apparently because he wanted us to 'understand how maths works', he taught us to think in terms of numerators and denominators. 'Since the mean was added to the set, the numerator remained unchanged, but the denominator increased by one, so the variance increased, and so the SD increased...' I tend to daydream when he teaches this kind of thing. I can complete the problem in one step with rote memorisation, but he taught us to think in four...

Now, I'm not saying his teaching was completely flawed. Since the second term, he has been doing something that I greatly admire: after teaching each topic, he took some of the hardest questions from the past papers, and taught us to do the questions. The HKEAA has a lot of tricks up their sleeves, so it's essential that we're familiar with every single one of them. However, I think what he has taught us to do these questions - thinking 'step by step' - doesn't work. I'll give another example of 'step-by-step' thinking, apart from the standard deviation example I mentioned above. When he teaches us to present our answers, he writes down every small step, and sometimes large blocks of text that aren't necessary. However, many of those steps have never been required by the HKEAA, and are simply a waste of time. Fortunately, he has almost never reinforced this when he marks my test papers (except that one time with ratios and variations, when he insisted I write k =/= 0...)

Then there's the time he spent a lot of time teaching set theory, a useless section gathering dust in the curriculum that has not once appeared in the past papers (apparently, the Education Bureau thinks it's a prerequisite towards learning probability)... or the time he showed us how the sine or cosine formulae were derived...

It's not a problem with my vice principal, mind you. It's a problem with the system. My school's maths department simply isn't oriented towards the right direction. For instance, most of the exam papers are several times more difficult than the HKEAA's. The problem is, we don't need the ability to handle ridiculously hard questions. That's a complete waste of time! As long as we can handle HKDSE problems, there's no reason to worry about harder questions.

Even worse, though, is the Chinese department. Here, past papers are treated as mere exercises. Perhaps that's fine for Paper 2 (writing) or Paper 4 (speaking), or maybe even Paper 5 (integrated), but it certainly does not work for Paper 1 (reading comprehension) or Paper 3 (listening). The problem is that we are never taught how to do these papers, how to follow the logic of the HKEAA. There is no method, no direction - we are cast into the swimming pool without an instructor, and expected to figure out swimming by ourselves.

Take Paper 1 for example. A widely publicised fact is that the writers of the reading passages for Paper 1 generally have no idea how to do the questions. We are simply thrown exercises at us and asked to complete them. This year, for example, there was an essay titled 'The Ninth Taste'. One of the questions was a fill-in-the-blank question, requiring the candidate name the ninth taste. When asked what it was, the author replied that there was no definite answer, and he wanted the readers to think for themselves. He added that he would write 'the taste of life' if he were a candidate. It turned out that his answer was wrong. My tutor has showed us the marking scheme (he has the means to get it early, like most tutors from large commercial centres) and showed us step-by-step how to find it using the HKEAA's logic. This is the very reason why I need a tutor. He teaches me how to follow the HKEAA's logic. He teaches me to deconstruct reading passages using a method he (probably) devised himself, and use them to answer questions in Paper 1. He also has a system based on Classical Chinese syntax that allows us to comprehend classical texts with less difficulty.

To sum up the faults with public schools:
-We are taught useless things, like how formulae were derived, when the time could have been better spent analysing question types in past papers or teaching methods.
-We are given exercises to do, rather than being taught how to do them.
-The marking schemes, level of difficulty, question types, etc., differ from those found in public exams.
-(can't elaborate on this; not enough characters left) For arts subjects, we're given marking schemes but not told how to come up with the points in there.

I could rant on, but seeing that I've spent way too much time typing this rant, I'll stop. ^^ so anyway, are there similar problems in other countries? I see a lot of public school-bashing on DDO and other primarily American sites - do you face the same problems?
The thing is, I hate relativism. I hate relativism more than I hate everything else, excepting, maybe, fibreglass powerboats... What it overlooks, to put it briefly and crudely, is the fixed structure of human nature. - Jerry Fodor

Don't be a stat cynic:
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Response to conservative views on deforestation:
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ThoughtsandThoughts
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6/8/2014 4:26:06 PM
Posted: 2 years ago
At 5/31/2014 11:27:31 AM, Diqiucun_Cunmin wrote:
-We are taught useless things, like how formulae were derived, when the time could :have been better spent analysing question types in past papers or teaching methods.
-We are given exercises to do, rather than being taught how to do them.
-The marking schemes, level of difficulty, question types, etc., differ from those found :in public exams.
-(can't elaborate on this; not enough characters left) For arts subjects, we're given :marking schemes but not told how to come up with the points in there.


I read all of your post, but I find it easier to respond to the summary's points :)

1. In America, for the most part, teachers who want reform believe that going over types of questions/tricks/difficult questions on exams is taking away from authentic learning. A lot of these teachers believe that knowing something like how a formula was derived will help students better understand the formula. Research shows that understanding material helps people remember it better.

However, teachers in the US feel that there is so much emphasis on exams and high standards that they have to focus on "teaching to the test" (huge term here). So, they're doing exactly what it sounds like you want. If someone wants a better score on these tests, teachers do have to focus somewhat on common tricks and show students to tackle the questions. Personally, like you sort of mentioned, I feel that the exam only needs to be so difficult.

2. Practice questions are much better than lecture, but I understand what you mean. That's not enough. The learning needs to be varied. There's something called Bloom's Taxonomy that displays where different kinds of learning fall in terms of retaining more information. Lecture is the worst way to retain information, but it's still important. In America, there's a little too much lecture. Then we get some practice, which is better, but it's still not enough. Analyzing, evaluating, and creating are even more enriched ways of learning when complemented with lecture and practice.

3. Can you explain this one a bit more?

4. I had to google "marking schemes" and I think you mean that you're given old exams for practice, but not told how to do the exam? If that's the case, in America, it's not too uncommon for teachers to go through how to answer past exam questions together - or as homework. Typically students go over the questions as a class.

Sorry to hear you're not entirely fond of your school system. As any school system, they all have their problems. It's nice that you have at least one teacher who you feel really works though! ^_^
Diqiucun_Cunmin
Posts: 2,710
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6/11/2014 9:12:43 PM
Posted: 2 years ago
Thanks for the reply! :) It means a lot to me.

1. In America, for the most part, teachers who want reform believe that going over types of questions/tricks/difficult questions on exams is taking away from authentic learning. A lot of these teachers believe that knowing something like how a formula was derived will help students better understand the formula. Research shows that understanding material helps people remember it better.
IMO, application is more important than understanding the formula. If the student plans to further his studies in mathematics in university, then of course, that's an exception. For most people, however, the entire point of maths is to pass the exam, and they'll have no use for most of the advanced maths once they leave school.
However, teachers in the US feel that there is so much emphasis on exams and high standards that they have to focus on "teaching to the test" (huge term here). So, they're doing exactly what it sounds like you want. If someone wants a better score on these tests, teachers do have to focus somewhat on common tricks and show students to tackle the questions. Personally, like you sort of mentioned, I feel that the exam only needs to be so difficult.
I think the exams should have both difficult and easy questions. They need a mechanism determine who will get an A (5** here), B (5* here), C (5 here). If the exam is too easy, there will be too many candidates nearing the top score, so it would be hard to pick the best ones.

2. Practice questions are much better than lecture, but I understand what you mean. That's not enough. The learning needs to be varied. There's something called Bloom's Taxonomy that displays where different kinds of learning fall in terms of retaining more information. Lecture is the worst way to retain information, but it's still important. In America, there's a little too much lecture. Then we get some practice, which is better, but it's still not enough. Analyzing, evaluating, and creating are even more enriched ways of learning when complemented with lecture and practice.
My #2 not really a matter of lecture:practice ratio. We do get lecture here - a lot of it. However, a lot of the lecture time is misplaced. For example, we learn set texts in Chinese class (we need to study them for internal exams as well). However, we all know they won't appear in the public exam. In Liberal Studies, my teacher has a relatively good lecture:practice ratio, but even so (perhaps it's the fault of the LS department itself), the teacher tends to dig really deep into certain issues (like the three rural problems) and usually ends up racing through some key issues at the end of the term (like sustainable development in Hong Kong and China - they practically skipped over 4/5 of the pages).

Anyway, back to the #2 - my point was that we are often given exercises, and mark our own work in class (the teacher would put up the marking scheme on the screen), but the teacher won't tell you HOW to find the answers, just what the answers ARE. That's a long-standing problem with the reading paper in Chinese and English, as well as the listening paper in the former language.

3. Can you explain this one a bit more?
Marking schemes: One word: Geography. Before I went to an intensive course at a tutorial, I had no idea I wasn't drawing tectonic plate diagrams correctly. Also, geography teachers generally copy questions from past papers (local or GCSE/GCE),or question banks. The question banks are often problematic in that they points they list are not always the same as those in the HKEAA's marking schemes. Also, for some topics (esp. human geography), the important keywords may not be highlighted or even used. (In DSE geography, if you didn't use the correct keyword, you won't score anything even if your answer matches the marking scheme's, e.g. we must write expressway instead of highway.)

Probably worse though, is LS. For example, my teacher gave me a very low score once because I wasn't doing the refutation correctly. My tutor, however, said my answer would be accepted by the HKEAA's standards because of the nature of the question.

Another thing our school pretty much always misses is 'thinking in multiple perspectives'. (My tutor highlights this point because he knows it's a common mistake for school teachers to miss it.) At school, I don't think this has ever been an important criterion for judging the quality of a student's answer when my teachers mark. (If it's really obvious, e.g. the student only gives arguments about the economy, they'll tell, but it's sometimes not so obvious.) In fact, occasionally, even some of the teachers' own marking schemes do not follow this principle. Thinking in multiple perspectives means that we should take into account different stakeholders, different 'levels' (personal, social, national, regional, global...), different areas (technology, economy, environment, politics, culture, society...) and so on.

I'll give an example here. My tutor handed out an assignment about organ donation once. The second question asked the student to what extend he/she supports compulsory organ donation. I wrote that it violates human rights, contradicts traditional values, and has averse psychological effects on the family of the deceased if he/she died of a sudden death. I don't think my teachers at school would find anything wrong with the points themselves (not taking into account elaboration). However, I scored very low for this question because all three were about forces against legislation, one from citizens holding traditional values, one from citizens in general (human rights) and one from the victim's family. Therefore, I wasn't thinking in multiple perspectives. He told me that, when assessing whether a legislation should take place, I should also take into account feasibility, side effects, necessity, etc. That is not something I can learn from school...

As for question types, the worst violator used to be Chinese Paper 2 (writing). The situation has changed for the better in the last semester, but in the past, we were provided with essay topics that have nothing whatsoever to do with the question-setting trends in recent years. In recent years, the question types mainly fall into two categories: a) stories with morals and b) philosophical essays (e.g. this year, one of the topics was 'don't be the first, and don't be the last'). In the past, we instead got irrelevant question types like very open-ended questions (i.e. those with a one or two words), 'creative writing' (e.g. letters to future humans), and so on. These questions do not really help us.

4. I had to google "marking schemes" and I think you mean that you're given old exams for practice, but not told how to do the exam? If that's the case, in America, it's not too uncommon for teachers to go through how to answer past exam questions together - or as homework. Typically students go over the questions as a class.
We generally go over them too. Problem is, 'go over' usually means that the teacher projects the marking scheme onto the screen, and optionally reads them out, explaining the words she thinks students may not understand. We don't learn how these points were derived. For example, for data-based questions, we don't learn how to extract the information from the data, only what the required points are. For essay-type questions, we don't learn how to come up with points. We only get a marking scheme about the points. That would be useful if we somehow get exactly the same question in our public exam (i.e. not very likely).

Sorry to hear you're not entirely fond of your school system. As any school system, they all have their problems. It's nice that you have at least one teacher who you feel really works though! ^_^
Thanks again for the reply! ^^ I'd like to hear more about the American system. Are there any specific examples, for example, of the parallels you ment
The thing is, I hate relativism. I hate relativism more than I hate everything else, excepting, maybe, fibreglass powerboats... What it overlooks, to put it briefly and crudely, is the fixed structure of human nature. - Jerry Fodor

Don't be a stat cynic:
http://www.debate.org...

Response to conservative views on deforestation:
http://www.debate.org...

Topics I'd like to debate (not debating ATM): http://tinyurl.com...