Draft questions for an Asian school textbook
By Nury Vittachi
My neighbour’s child brought home a school work-sheet. It said: “If Alfie hits a baseball at 10 miles an hour, how long will it take to cross a 176-yard diamond?”
The homework raised all sorts of questions for a child raised in Asia. What kind of name is Al-Fie? What’s a mile? What’s a yard? Even his mother had a question. Where can you buy a 176-yard diamond?
I explained that baseball was a game played on a “diamond”, but that just got her more excited. “Wah! Everything so big in USA,” she said.
The problem was, of course, that the homework sheet had been photocopied from an ancient textbook designed for kids in the west.
My wife once volunteered to teach children at a local faith centre. The instruction sheet said: “Today’s subject is the richness of diversity. Ask the children to divide themselves by hair colour and stand in various groups: one for blond hair, one for red hair, one for brown hair and so on. Then ask them to re-group according to eye colour: brown eyes, blue eyes, green eyes and so on.”
In Asia, this exercise doesn’t quite go to plan.
“Anyone with browny-black hair get into a group on my left,” my wife said.
Everybody moved to the left.
“Okay, now anyone with browny-black eyes get into a group on my right.”
Everybody moved to the right.
Game over. How this taught us about the richness of diversity I don’t know.
But actually, the exercise was educational: it taught us that that textbook needed to be filed along with lunch leftovers in the free-standing, circular filing cabinet outside the back door.
Asia needs Asian textbooks. We need local homework projects. C’mon, teachers. They’re not that hard to dream up. Here are some to get you started:
1. If Lee copies 1,000 CDs a day and sells them for one US dollar each, how long before he can get into Harvard?
2. If an Asian city’s public transport city is built to move a million people in one day, how many people does it move in one day? (a) Three million, (b) four million, or (c) five million?
3. The dean of a high class technical college wants a new US$100,000 swimming pool for his home, and the Daswanis want their son Ravindra to get into computer engineering. Should the dean get a Grecian infinity pool or a resort-style lagoon?
4. Ah-Li is Prime Minister of a small country in Asia. The constitution says that he cannot serve more than four years. How long does Ah-Li remain in power? (a) 20 years (b) 30 years (c) he’s still there, despite having resigned, retired and lost his mind.
5. If Xiao Wang wants an 800 yuan overseas travel permit, and each of the six officials who need to be bribed wants 100 yuan, how reliable are the country’s GDP figures?
6. In Western-style monarchies, the leader of a country retires by handing power to a member of his family. Asian republics are (a) pretty much the same, (b) pretty much the same, or (c) identical.
Best of all you can get a 10-point bonus if you answer this simple question: what is the most common hair-color on planet earth? Clue: It’s not blond, red or brown. Will someone please tell the school textbook writers?