Sunday, May 13, 2012

Placebo’s guide – getting into medical school

There are no grades that I’ll talk about (you can see for yourselves in the JUPAS website I suppose); there are few examples of what would bring a person into medical school (there are enough medical doctors around you and it’s easy to ask); what this piece deals with is how you get there after you have got all the requisites – good academic results, reference letters and the much needed luck. Accept this, and read on.

Medical schools in Hong Kong are basically a place for really bright students[1]. For those who are less able to get good grades at public examinations, alternatives include entrance to medical schools in Taiwan, the United Kingdom and Australia.

Medical school isn’t exactly something one should consider if you are asking for money. Yes – really good surgeons do make a million a week – but how many of those are there? You are much better off doing MT jobs and hope for the best. You will work less hours, have better quality of life earlier and hopefully retire earlier. There are certainly jobs in the medical sectors that would provide you with decent hours, but those would usually require either a period of damnation which may be quite long (some 8 years perhaps for physicians to rise to the level where you need not be on-site during on-call period) or an unreasonable curriculum that you will need to finish (e.g. anatomic and cytopathology).

Who do they want as medical students?
It all stems from one thing – a medical school wants to train safe doctors. The idea is, you could at least expect a safe doctor taking care of you when you’re in the hospital – thus, we need doctors (thus medical students) who understand their limits, work as a team and listen to others.

Accept it – medical school is all about vocational training. There is no ‘university’ part involved unless you are part of the academic staff in the university – and even then, not until you receive your fellowship.

You are going to get interviews, and you are going to be asked on why you want to be a medical doctor (once you’re in you will graduate unless you quit) and why you should be offered a place in the medical school.

So why do you want to be a doctor?
It is very natural to ask this question, am I not correct, monsieur? Let’s look at some sample answers:

1.      My mother told me to do so.
2.      I am living in a public housing estate and all I want to do is to get some decent salary to raise my four younger brothers.
3.      It is my dream to become a doctor.
4.      My father is a doctor, and I am to inherit his practice.

And so on, and so forth. These may as well be the real underlying reasons for many doctors out there, but of course, as a reasonably good student you know that there are many ways of presenting the same idea. I am not trying to give standard answers here, but the idea is that you want to help other people out, and medicine is one direct way of helping these folks.

[1] No, the luminance is not required for passing the examinations after you get into the medical school.

Friday, May 11, 2012

Childhood education - our future?

Irrelevant introduction

There are a total of four pillars in the Trafalgar square. Alongside Lord Nelson, are four pillars with the statues of King George IV, Sir Charles Napier and Sir Henry Havelock. Yes- we are missing one of them. At the current moment, it showcases a sculpture called "Powerless Structures, Fig. 101".

Powerless Structures, Fig.101 by Loz Flowers
An excerpt of the caption thus reads:
"... the work references the traditional monuments in the square, but, with its golden shine, it celebrates generations to come... We wanted to create a public sculpture which, rather than dealing with topics of victory or defeat, honours the every battles of growing up."
This shows how these Englishman see the importance of our future generations - they raise the depiction of our future generations to the status of historical heroes.

Childhood educators

Childhood education is important[1]. The thing is, whether you believe in the critical period hypothesis or not, the golden rule in language acquisition is still the earlier the better. The problem[2] with childhood education in Hong Kong is the utter neglect of it by the government.

Face it, the average parent in Hong Kong is not that sort of well-educated parent we are seeing in the advertisements (e.g. of HSBC) - look at the statistics - the average boy in Hong Kong doing HKCEE (although it is now historical, this represents what we have in the society for at least a decade-worth of men) would not pass all the three core subjects (Chinese, English and Mathematics).

And then we need kindergarten[3], and some of us may believe in the supposition that these quasi-educators in the kindergartens are better qualified than these apparently academically not-so-competent dads and moms. And perhaps we are wrong - at least for our generation. The minimum qualification, back in the years when the now-working generation were kindergarten pupils, for kindergarten teachers is that of finishing Form 3. The requirement has since changed to five passes in HKCEE (and still not requiring a pass in mathematics).

I suppose our children deserve better education. It is time we actually examine what is going on in the kindergartens rather than trying the best of our luck in applying for the best kindergartens judged by their associations with the international primary schools...


In the form of replying a specialty consultation, may I suggest:

(1) Raising the salary for all education posts such as kindergarten, primary and secondary teachers to improve the competitiveness in the job market.
(2) Mandatory language assessment for all childhood educators (to the likings of LPAT in primary and secondary teachers) - our children are looking at them for INPUTS during their critical (or early if you insist) years.

I am not asking for much - a pass in CAE or CPE would be quite sufficient - and mind you, we had that passed in our matriculation years.

[1] If you believe that a citation here would be useful, go here. I believe in the contrary.
[2] If there were no problems then I wouldn't have written this.
[3] To be honest, this is probably not the reason for the existence of kindergartens, and even with the universal tertiary education in taiwan, things are much better looking either.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

English as medium of instruction - II

In the classroom

It is no secret that the English competence of an average HK secondary school student is inadequate to learn the curriculum in English. However, to satisfy parental demands of using English as the medium of instruction, schools has been silently allowing teachers who were supposed to teach in English, to use Cantonese to supplement teaching - this supplementation could sometimes be a whole session conducted in Cantonese.

In fact, this (using Cantonese to conduct a lesson teaching material in a textbook written in English) certainly improved the understanding of students despite being rather unsound pedagogically. The problem with it though, is that, should we still label these as "EMI" schools? "EMI" subjects?

The situation of the pseudo-EMI teaching in secondary school has not been studied thoroughly, the obvious reason being that teachers will usually revert to teaching in English when being observed. What comes to rescue, though, is studies conducted among university students in Hong Kong.

Braine and McNaught had a fairly well-written literature review of the pseudo-EMI teaching in Hong Kong in their paper entitled "Adaptation of the ‘Writing Across Curriculum’ Model to the Hong Kong Context" [1]. In essence, in the university, students pressure the lecturers to use Cantonese by simply not responding to lecturers who still teach with English.

We can see that the outcome associated with teaching in English in these students whose competence do not enable them or facilitate them to learn in English is that - they will simply NOT learn the subject, and the outcome associated with teaching in Cantonese in these students would be that their English couldn't improve. The issue lies on:

(1) Are we doing an adequate job in placing students into correct MOI group?
  ... are we trying to put too many students in EMI schools?
  ... could this be due to parental demands?
(2) Is it possible to setup a category so that English textbooks are taught in lessons conducted in Cantonese?
(3) What is wrong with the current English education in HK?


Wednesday, May 2, 2012

English as medium of instruction - I

There is a recent posting on the medium of instruction in matter surrounding the discussion was that whether Chinese should be employed during teaching of a subject (other than English) in a school where the "medium of instruction" is English.

a short history of MOI in Hong Kong

a large proportion of this historical account was derived from [1].

It all started in 1978 - when universal education in Hong Kong was in its first year of life. It was the year that all Hong Kong children, regardless of their socioeconomic background, were granted 9 years of free education.

The curriculum then, was terribly difficult even for students nowadays. The 1953 Joint primary 6 examination was famous and it was well-circulated on the internet. A copy was donated by a retired teacher to a museum in Hong Kong (三棟屋博物館).

The questions were as follows:






This is terribly difficult even for junior secondary school students nowadays. Given such examination paper, one can imagine how elitist the education then was. The less prestigious schools were then harbouring a lot of students from lower socio-economic status who basically had completely inadequate English competency to study the curriculum in English.

And expectedly, the Education Commission sought help from UK. The panel of experts then recommended that: for the Government to impose Cantonese as the medium of instruction in FI-III of all secondary schools...
and also leave alone the small number of school which have been genuinely successful in using English as a medium of instruction...
The idea then was to introduce English progressively throughout junior secondary education. Then, a policy called "positive discrimination" evolved. It was a policy such that schools teaching in Chinese could brand themselves as such. The problem that follow was of course - very few school followed this recommendation. The reason was simple - you need good input to make good output, and better students tends to go to schools that teach in English.

With failure of the policy, a mandatory scheme was then introduced to categorize STUDENTS, first, into Group I-III (Ability to learn in I - both EMI and CMI schools, II - CMI schools only, III - EMI schools only) and then those school that couldn't get enough of EMI-capable students are forced to use Chinese as the medium of instruction.


Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Moral, Civic and National Education

There is certainly a lot of complaints surrounding this subject in Hong Kong.

According to the EDB,

Moral, Civic and National Education is an essential element of whole-person education which aims at fostering students' positive values and attitudes through the school curriculum and the provision of diversified learning experiences. It also develops students' ability to analyse and judge issues relating to personal, family, social, national and global issues at different developmental stages, and enhances their willingness to make commitment and contribution.

My personal belief is that whereas this MNE may as well be a rather political scheme of introducing the ruling government in a more pleasant manner to students in Hong Kong, this is actually a "good thing". 

The past decade of Hong Kong has been in a media-guided turmoil - citizens had generally been led into a exercise of voicing out all sorts of negative emotions. Children these days learn from the media that anything they have the freedom of speech - they can voice out anything that is unfair (or they so opined). What is wrong with this, one may ask?

The problem is that they don't quite understand the situation before they even speak.

If somebody go on to ask the secondary and university students of Hong Kong on whether they support democracy, chances are they are going to get quite a majority support. What is missing in this question is whether they KNOW what is democracy. You hear Raymond saying Aristotle in the morning, Immanuel Kant in the nighttime in a day, and Confucius in another day. How many of their books have these  secondary and tertiary students read to form their opinion of supporting democracy? My experience with secondary and tertiary students has been extremely poorly informed in political ideologies - not to mention the philosophical background of them.

If anything, this MNE will likely stimulate the learning of students on this subject and our society will benefit from it. Knowledge is power!