Monday, June 26, 2006

Queen's College, A Century Ago

I came across a fascinating document today about Queen's College, that famous and most storied of Hong Kong secondary schools (once known as the Government Central School for Boys). This report prepared for the Legislative Council on the order of the Governor (Sir Matthew Nathan at the time) dated from August 1906, almost one hundred years ago, and talked about the standard of the students, and how they fared in various subjects. It not only tells you how good the students were, but also in what general conditions they were educated.

It was also a real eye-opener to see how students were taught various subjects, and by what measuring sticks their aptitude was judged. As I think the text pretty much speaks for itself, I shall keep my editorializing to a minimum. Without further ado, here is the first category, discipline, which in itself is very telling:
Discipline is very good. The only important criticism we have to make, is that the boys in many of the Divisions are somewhat slothful. This is especially true of their attitude when questioned orally; and some of the higher Divisions are the worst offenders. In one Division boys previously mute found their tongues when they discovered that they would be kept standing till they did so. The great numbers at the College, with the lack of sufficient accommodation, have led to economies of space which are very prejudicial to good teaching... In the other rooms the boys are arranged in solid squares, a formation calculated to save all but the outside rank andf file from sudden or casual inspection.
The next is sanitation, a legacy no doubt of the Victorian era:
There is no provision for the proper ventilation of the Class rooms, when the weather is too cold to admit of the opening of many windows. Only one room has a fire place...Many of the rooms are badly lighted, both as to the quantity of the light and its direction. Many of the rooms are over-crowded.
There were also criticisms of the teaching method, and 'false economies' with regard to maps:
After the unsatisfactory nature of the desks, the most obvious deficiency is the lack of wall maps and pictures. Maps are kept in a separate room, and have to be sent for when required. This may provde a saving of wear and tear; but it is a false economy from an educational point of view.
Then the report went on to discuss the learning level of the students in various subjects. By far the greatest attention was spent on English, as you might imagine:
The great majority of the boys who enter the College have previously studied in private schools, whether in Hongkong or Canton, where old-fashioned methods of instruction are practised, and an incorrect pronounciation acquired...The main fault we noticed, though it was less conspicuous in the Preparatory School than in the higher Classes, was that the boys do not answer loudly enough. ..In the Upper School, the boys with few exceptions were well able to answer when asked ordinary questions, though some of them would only do so under a good deal of pressure. It however remains to make them talk correct English. Their grammar is on the whole very weak: in fact, though they would probably be surprised and disgusted to hear it said, they use a sort of "pidgin" English, which has marked features of its own. Of these, the commonest are the discarding of inflections and the omission of auxiliary verbs. Thus. "I asked him where he was coming from, and he said he had been for a walk", would be put in some such way as this: "I asked him, Where you coming from? He say, I been for a walk".
Other than grammar, more observations were made of aptitude in reading and composition. What is interesting is that 'Shakespeare' was a separate subject altogether:
Papers on Henry V were set to a few boys in Class I A. On the whole the answers were good: the papers written by several boys were excellent, and long quotations were given correctly. In oral answers I B were somewhat feeble and uncertain.
So demonstrating that rote memorization was still a key part of the educational system! The next subject was geography. On this front, Hong Kong geography was taught along with Europe and Asia:
The plan of Hongkong was well known by Class VII, the boys having no difficulty in pointing out the principal streets and buildings...In Class V the outlines of Europe and Asia were fairly well known, though some of the boys were not very ready in pointing out places on the map.
The next subject though was history, and the history of China or Hong Kong was conspicuous by its absence:
This subject appears to present great difficulty to the majority of the boys, and many of them spent their time in attempting only half the questions set. Several pages of foolscap were devoted to answering questions which required a few lines only, and much matter was introduced which had no bearing on the questions. [Rather like the Chinese attitude to historically British concerns no doubt! - Ed.] In Class I A some good work was done, some of the papers being very good. In B, the result was bad. A sketch map illustrating Wellington's Peninsular Campaign was asked for, but was not attempted by a single boy.
I find it incredible that these Chinese boys were going to know anything about the Napoleonic Era, and specifically England's involvement in Portugal with the lines of Torres Vedras. For the author of the report to be astounded by this inability speaks volumes to the dissonant interests of educator and Chinese student...the next subject was Hygiene, which the masters felt was an important subject to be taught to the filthy Chinese. (I speak only half in jest, because the British felt the squalor of Western district tenements was in large part responsible for the Bubonic Plague which was still affecting Hong Kong at that time)
In the Upper School the results were disappointing. In Classes I, II, and III, three papers only obtained 6t0 per cent. and eleven more obtained 50 to 60 percent out of 57 shewn up. A greater understanding of the subject and less reliance on learning by rote might have been hoped for. A proper understanding of even elementary hygiene must however depend on a groundwork of elementary natural science; this is evidently where the teaching fails.
The next subject was Book Keeping, which yielded surprising results for a Hong Kong school:
This subject is taught in Classes I and II only. The paper set to Class II was very easy...the journalising was done well; but hazy ideas prevailed as to the real nature of a bank note.
A bank note being a very novel concept at the time! The kids did much better though in mathematics. An interesting observation was made:
One would think it desirable to teach boys to work in decimals before initiatiing them into the mysteries of vulgar fractions, especially Chinese boys who are accustomed from their earliest days to the abacus, and in a country where a decimal coinage obtains.
Specific evaluations were also made for algebra, geometrical drawing, geometry, mensuration and trigonometry. The last subject was Chinese, where the examiners airily said that the marks for some areas such as dictation were poor because of 'the terrible way in which the Chinese teach their own language.'

I shall close today's entry with a few sample questions from some of the examinations:
Classes I & II:

Is the spending of money upon luxuries good for trade? [I would have said yes, but I wonder what the British establishment regarded as the right answer? - Ed.]


Give an account of the way in which a British Crown Colony is governed, illustrating your meaning by reference to the Government of Hongkong. [bit of civic propaganda required! - Ed.]


What is the nature of the dispute that has arisen between the Viceroy of the Two Kwongs and the shareholders of the Canton-Hankow Railway?

Class III

Compare the Anglo-Chinese Government Schools of the Colony with those at Canton. [I can't imagine a student that said the schools in Canton were superior would do very well- Ed.]


Describe how a Chinese shop-keeper manages his business.

Class IV:

Electric fans. Weite all you know about them, both their good and bad points. [!!??! - Ed.]

Class V:

Write a letter to your father thanking him for the dollar he sent you. Tell him you bought a purse with it; but now you have no money to put in it, and therefore you would like him to send another dollar. [Now they are just taking the piss! - Ed.]


Henry V:

1. Say what you can of the date and the sources of the play.

2. What are the meanings of the following words used in the play:- gentles, lazars, advised, quittance, quick, greener.

3. Who spoke the following lines and to whom were they said:-

(a) The sin upon my head, dread Sovereign.
(b) My most redoubted father, It is most meet we arm us 'gainst the foe.
(c) 'Tis good for men to love their present pains upon example.
(d) Hark, how our steeds for present service neigh!
(e) O give us leave, great King, to view the field in safety and dispose of their dead bodies.

4. Give a short summary of Act III Scene V of the play.

5. Compare the character of Henry V as shown in the play with that of the Dauphin.

6. Explain the allusions to:- Gordian Knot; Iceland Dog; Pitchard Pay; At the turning 'o the tide: The feast of Crispian.

7. Who are the following and what are their places in the play: - Duke of Bedford; Lord Scroop; The Constable of France; Mountjoy: Fluellen and Pistol?

8. Give the substance of Henry's speech before the gates of Harfleur, with quotations, if possible.
For more questions, send me an e-mail! Once more through the breach my friends! Until next time.


Madame Chiang said...

With reference to the bad points of electric fans...can I direct you to this post from Seven Seas!!

Otherwise some cracking questions there!!!

Dave and Stefan said...

Madame Chiang, that was hilarious. I hope you've not had to resort to such killers overmuch in Manila!

Anonymous said...

the link to the document does not work, could you post the url?


Dave and Stefan said...

Sorry about the link, it is a little temperamental. Just try it a few times and it will work.