05/22/2004: "The old man and the Japanese student"
I read an interesting news from Japan. At the entrance exam for public high schools in Chiba, there was a question that almost half of the students couldn't answer in Japanese subject. The question was: write an essay about bringing this old man you met on the street to the city hall, choosing from the two routes on the map. First, the students were asked to make a choice about the old man. The old man seems to be: A. In a hurry. B. rather frail. C. in good health. D. having plenty of free time. They say students were too confused to make this choice, plus the choices between the route A which has a steep uphill and the route B which is mostly flat but longer in distance. They didn't mean to confuse the students in making either of these choices since no choice was wrong. It was merely for communication skills and to describe the story with proper words. The news reports only 14% answered correctly. Some students suffered too much from thinking that it's inapproprite to make the old man walk up the hill or make him walk a long way. The question also asked the students to express how they are being considerate for the old man, which they think caused the students further agony. Japanese schooling system is often described as 'examination hell,' but this type of essay question is rare. The exams are always to test their knowlege. They are trained to make the correct answers. When I went to college here, essay questions freaked me out because I wasn't used to them, and it was hard enough to write in English to begin with. I thought I did terribly at the first such exam, but turned out I did well. I realized that it was only a matter of explaining what I knew. But Japanese students are hardly encouraged to express and make points in their own words. The news reports that some students even started crying as they run out of time trying to compose a 'correct' essay. Poor kids. I wish I were there to cheer them on: the high school student and the old man walking up the big hill. Maybe then can see a better view from the top.