Generation 40s – 四十世代

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將經典交給學生

信報財經新聞
教育講論
2016-07-02

吳靜博士

2016年2月,國際著名漢學家孔復禮(Philip A. Kuhn)辭世。消息傳出當天,筆者很多朋友紛紛在網上向先生致敬,其中一個原因是,孔復禮的《叫魂:1768年中國妖術大恐慌》(Soulstealers: The Chinese Sorcery Scare of 1768)堪稱漢學經典,當年的學生受老師推薦幾乎每人手執一本。對於後學者,悼念孔復禮既是追憶其史學精神氣質,也是緬懷青葱的讀書年代。與此同時,筆者不禁反問自己,教學這些年,到底有沒有交給學生一本真正的經典?

在日常的教學活動之中,筆者給學生列出的閱讀資料其實一點都不少。雖然要求學生在堂上作閱讀報告,但其中可堪稱經典、能塑造學生專業品格的作品比較有限。

意大利的著名作家卡爾維諾(Italo Calvino,1923—1985)在文集《我們為什麼要讀經典》中,對「經典」提出過敏銳的見解,他說經典是「每次重讀都好像初讀那樣帶來發現,每次初讀都好像重溫以前」的作品,它們可以游離於學校教育之外,不僅值得一讀再讀,其影響力甚至會轉變成讀者的內在氣質,成為讀者精神世界的一部分。

可是我明白一點,能擔此重任的書籍在世界上不會太多,如果在讀書時代曾接觸過,其實已經無憾了。事實上,筆者讀書時並沒有認真閱讀老師交給我的《叫魂》,今天孔復禮已經故去,內心感到有愧於先生,不過這恰恰是我們面對經典的常態。如果今天硬塞給學生一部經典,結果應該沒有不同。

經典要自己去找

人的精神成長是一個自我發現和確認的過程,我們心中的經典也要自己去找。對於每個人,經典不是別人口中的「必讀書單」,而應該是能夠解答自己的問題、幫助自己認識自我和世界的作品。因為工作關係,筆者最近重讀Manull Castell有關「網絡社會」(Network Society)的著作,為了理解相關討論及理論與現實的關係,筆者進一步追溯安東尼紀登斯(Anthony Giddens)對於經典社會理論和政治理論的論述,這種尋找不輕鬆,但很暢快。多年前,這些「必讀書」對我來說不過是學業要求,直到今天調整好狀態,一直擺在神壇上的「必讀書」和「大師」才成為我心中的經典。如卡爾維諾所說,經典「對讀過並喜愛它們的人構成一種寶貴的經驗,但是對於那些保留這個機會,等到享受它們的最佳狀態來臨時才閱讀它們的人,它們也仍然是一種豐富的經驗。」不過,這種漫步式的尋找需要時間和閱歷做基礎,要求學生在年輕時就懂得找經典似乎不切實際。

引路人角色重要

面對數字化的新世代,教師一方面要及時更新知識,另方面也要承擔傳遞經典的角色。至於如何傳遞經典,也是不少老師感到棘手的問題,但台灣知名學者蔣勳「布道《紅樓夢》」卻帶來啟發。蔣勳從文學、美學和宗教的角度把「大觀園」品讀為保護「青春夢想」的「青春王國」,用磁性的聲線細說經典的人文內涵,比過去教科書裏講的「反對封建禮教」更能打動人,更溫暖慈悲。雖然坊間對蔣勳的解讀有各種聲音,但筆者以為,在「有人罵好過沒人理」的時代,蔣勳用聲音向大眾布道經典,引導年輕人閱讀原著,這本身就是一種功德。筆者最近想,如果教授每一門課都交給學生一本經典,那應該是什麼,該怎樣教?

撰文:吳靜博士
恒生管理學院傳播學院

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Full subsidies for kindergarten education would improve their status and boost learning in Hong Kong

South China Morning Post
Comment›Insight & Opinion
2015-09-17

Paul Stapleton

Paul Stapleton says with research on early childhood development now showing the importance of preschool, the Hong Kong government should invest in giving children a head start

Two recent news items, seemingly unrelated, bring pause for thought and the need for reform: The first is lawmaker Michael Tien Puk-sun’s comment last week that Hong Kong’s English standards need improving; the second concerns the ongoing anxiety about kindergarten tuition fees.

Tien’s comments about English standards and declining competitiveness in the city are not new. They reflect the ever-present concern that our education system is not doing a good enough job in teaching the world’s de facto lingua franca.

This mention of the education system leads to the recent concerns about the cost of sending children to kindergarten. Over 80 per cent of kindergartens have raised their fees by an average of over 8 per cent, which has resulted in some charging over HK$40,000 a year – or roughly the equivalent of tuition fees for a year of undergraduate studies at local universities.

Although that may seem absurd, it is not necessarily incongruous, given new understanding about intellectual development. Research in early childhood education increasingly reveals that it is the period from birth to about the age of five that the brain is at its most malleable and able to learn at a remarkable rate. Research also informs us that the steady decline in learning ability as we advance towards our teenage years reflects the decreasing plasticity of the brain. In other words, in terms of value for money, teaching a five-year-old trumps teaching a young adult every time.

Actually, most of us are aware of young children’s astonishing ability to learn, via our own experiences acquiring second and third languages, for example. Many parents are willing to part with their hard-earned money to send their kids to kindergarten in the knowledge that great benefits can be accrued.

With this background, the government’s policy of only partially subsidising kindergarten education while also setting a low median point for teachers’ salaries sends a message that kindergarten is not so important.

The rationale for not fully subsidising kindergartens may simply be historical momentum, whereby the teaching of children at that age is viewed more as playschool than the more academically oriented education that starts in Primary One. Thus, under this thinking, kindergarten is not deserving of the same financial support that real school merits.

Many people don’t see kindergarten as a place for serious learning, perhaps because that learning appears to involve a lot of play. Photo: Edmond So

In essence, without a full subsidy, the image of the kindergarten will remain the same – that is, not a place for serious learning, perhaps because that learning appears to involve a lot of play.

In light of our increasing understanding of children’s special learning abilities in their preschool years, it is time to reconsider and upgrade the status of kindergartens. Being fully subsidised, with teachers’ salaries on a par with those in the school sector, kindergartens could stand as venues of learning equal to primary and secondary school. With fully fledged status, they could attract more qualified teachers and better informed instruction, and a more regularised curriculum would give parents confidence that minimum standards were being met.

And, if all children had a year of English immersion in kindergarten, this could be worth as much as, or more than, multiple years of English classes in primary and secondary school.

Being fluent in English is no longer an option in a world where we need every competitive edge possible. Therefore, our education policy must capitalise on our knowledge of the human brain and put curriculums in place that best take advantage of our developmental propensities.

Paul Stapleton is an associate professor at the Hong Kong Institute of Education


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Why do Chinese students think it’s OK to cheat?

South China Morning Post
Comment›Insight & Opinion
2016-06-15

Kelly Yang

Kelly Yang says criminalising cheating in the gaokao university entrance exam is a good start to fixing the problem. But parents must also teach their children the right attitude to learning

Cheating is now officially a criminal offence in China. Students found guilty of cheating in the notoriously difficult university entranceexam will now face up to seven years in prison. Many are calling the punishment overly harsh. Even so, I think it’s exactly what China needs, if it is enforced fairly.

In recent years, cheating has got so out of control that, three years ago, in the small town of Zhongxiang, Hubei (湖北), a group of gaokao invigilators found themselves under siege as enraged parents and students trapped them in their office and threw rocks at the windows, shouting, “We want fairness! Let us cheat!”

It’s not just the gaokao – it’s the SAT, the GRE, and a whole host of other exams. An estimated 90 per cent of all recommendation letters for Chinese applicants to United States universities are fake. Some 70 per cent of application essays are not written by students, and 50 per cent of grades transcripts are falsified.

Once the students arrive on campus, more cheating services are available. Last month, Reuters published a devastating report on cheating by Chinese students in the US, finding a thriving black market which includes services to write essays, do the students’ homework, and take their exams. It seems you can now get a degree from an Ivy League school without ever leaving your house!

With so much evidence of cheating, the question is: why do Chinese kids cheat? Well, because they want to and because they can. Most Chinese parents tell their kids from a very early age that their goal in life is to get into a good school. That’s it, not learn the right skills or to find inspiration in school to seek meaningful work. Just “get into a good school”.
Education gets reduced to a product, one which, like all other products, can be bought and sold

By emphasising the destination rather than the journey, education gets reduced to a product, one which, like all other products, can be bought and sold, and, if need be, snatched. That’s what we’re seeing here: kids who fundamentally do not accept that cheating is wrong. And why should they when they do not view education for what it is, a chance to broaden one’s mind and learn new ways of thinking? Rather, they see it as a status label, something akin to a handbag.

The second reason that Chinese students cheat is because they can. Here, the cheating services are as much to blame as the testing services, organisations like College Board, which owns and administers the SAT and for years has been recycling old material from previous tests to save a little money.

In March, Reuters reported that, since 2013, there have been at least eight occasions in which test materials were compromised, but the SAT went ahead and administered them anyway.

When the testing authorities knowingly administer compromised tests, they’re as guilty as the cheating services and the parents who condone or, worse, encourage their children to game the system. They are all enablers, helping to fuel a global cheating epidemic that robs us all.

As dire as the situation is, I still hold out hope. The fact that China is introducing more severe consequences for cheating on the gaokao is a good first step. I hope the punishments are doled out consistently and fairly. And I hope the College Board follows in China’s footsteps, stops being penny wise and pound foolish, and restores much needed integrity in the SAT.

Finally, I hope Chinese parents stop telling their children to just “get into a good school”. This may have been good advice in the old days but not in today’s innovation-driven, entrepreneurial times.

Kelly Yang teaches writing at the Kelly Yang Project, an after-school centre for writing and debate in Hong Kong. She is a graduate of UC Berkeley and Harvard Law School.


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A Japanese offensive: Constitutional changes may result in Tokyo coming under increased pressure from Washington

South China Morning Post
News›Asia›East Asia
JAPAN
Reuters in Tokyo
2015-09-17

Japan and ally the United States can start making plans for a possible conflict with China after the expected enactment of defence legislation this week, but Japan will not be sending troops to back up US-led operations against Islamic State (IS).

Those two scenarios show both how far Japan will have come in loosening the constraints of its pacifist constitution on its military and how far it will remain from being a “normal nation”, unconstrained in overseas military operations by legal limits and a deeply rooted public anti-war mindset.

Some in Japan worry that the gap between what Japan can or will do and what the United States hopes for could cause friction with Washington if a failure to meet overblown expectations means it becomes disillusioned with its Asian partner.

“With these legal changes, we will be able to do almost everything the United States has asked. There is almost nothing we cannot do when it comes to things like providing ammunition and rearguard support,” a Japanese naval officer said.

“But what America really wants is for Japan to fight in the war against terrorism,” he added. “If US public opinion rises against Japan, this will be a problem.”

Despite public protests and surveys showing a majority of voters object, parliament’s upper house is expected as early as this week to enact defence bills Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has called “the first of its kind and a sweeping” reform.

The changes include an end to a decades-old ban on defending a friendly nation under attack, or collective self-defence, when Japan faces a “threat to its survival”.

They also expand scope for logistics support for US and other countries’ militaries and participation in multinational peacekeeping operations.

The United States has welcomed the shift, while China, where anger over Japan’s brutal occupation before and during the second world war is still deep, has said the legislation would “complicate” regional security.

Domestic critics say the changes violate the constitution and open the door to entanglement in US-led conflicts.

The bills, passed by the more powerful lower house in July, have since been debated in the upper house. Abe’s ruling party wants to have them approved by tomorrow to avoid a swelling of protests during the upcoming five-day weekend. Abe also has promised the US the bills would pass in parliament by this summer.

Last night, opposition parties had planned actions to try block the legislation, including censure motions to try to embarrass the government into submission, but these were not expected to stop the bill being passed.

Abe has in principle ruled out sending troops to fight in foreign territory and said Japan would not even provide logistical support for US-led operations against IS.

“Japan is not going to be like Australia, the UK or Germany in that those countries have been providing all sorts of human assets to war zones, Afghanistan, Iraq,” a Japanese government source said. “That is not going to be a thing that Japan can do.”

The changes leave Japan still short of being a “normal nation” by global security standards. Collective self-defence, for example, will only be exercised if three conditions are met including a “threat to Japan’s survival”.

“It is a big step by Japanese standards but not huge by major power standards,” said Narushige Michishita, Japan scholar at the Woodrow Wilson International Centre for Scholars.

That said, closer integration with US forces in particular opens the door not only to expand peace-time patrols and exercises but also to start join planning for conflict.

“It will enhance deterrence and integrate Japan much more closely not just with the United States, but with Australia, the Philippines and other US allies,” said Michael Green, Japan chair at the Centre for Strategic and International Studies

“Japan can be integrated in the use of force – not Japan doing offensive missions, but supporting the United States in an emergency that is a threat to Japan’s interests and survival.”

Michishita said the legislation would allow Japan and the United States to begin planning to defend the “first island chain”, an arc of islands enclosing China’s coastal waters from the Kuril Islands southward through the Japanese archipelago, Taiwan and the northern Philippines to Borneo.

“From the military operations perspective, this is most important,” said Michishita, a former defence official.

Still, some in Japan worry a perception gap with the US over what Japan can or will do could lead to damaging friction.

“There are experts in the United States who have the misconception that Japan will be able to exercise collective self-defence based on international law and equivalent to what the United States can do,” said former defence minister Satoshi Morimoto. “Japan is going to have to make a lot of effort in this area [to avoid friction].”

Additional reporting by Kyodo and Associated Press

WHAT IT MEANS

Key points of the legislation, which consists of one new law and revisions to 10 existing laws.

Limited collective self-defence

This allows Japan to exercise its right to collective self-defence by deploying its military to respond to an attack against a friendly foreign country under three conditions: the attack results in a threat to Japan’s survival, no other appropriate means are available, and the use of force is limited to the minimum necessary. As examples, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has cited defending a US ship attacked while transporting Japanese citizens evacuating a conflict zone, or protecting a US destroyer conducting surveillance against a possible missile attack on Japan. Abe has said as a general principle, Japanese troops would not be sent to fight in foreign territory or waters but an exception could be made for minesweeping in the Hormuz Strait if maritime commerce is blocked.

International peace support

A new, permanent law would allow Japan’s military, with prior parliamentary approval, to provide logistical support to armed forces of other countries seeking collectively to secure international peace, if a UN resolution has been adopted. This would be limited to areas where conflict is not under way.

Logistical support

Allows Japan to provide logistical support to the United States and other countries engaged in operations in situations with “important influence” on Japan’s security. This expands the current scope and clarifies that there are no geographical constraints. Abe has ruled out providing logistics support for US-led operations against Islamic State.

Peacekeeping

In addition to UN peacekeeping operations, allows Japan’s military to take part in multilateral peace and security operations outside the UN framework. Allows the military to protect civilians or troops of other countries participating in peacekeeping. Relaxes rules on use of weapons during peacekeeping operations.

Asset protection

Allows Japan’s military to protect weapons and other equipment of US and other countries’ armed forces when they are engaged in operations contributing to Japan’s defence.

Reuters