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Thread: 20% of Japanese University student with 13 to 15 year-old reading abilities

  1. #1
    Twirling dragon Maciamo's Avatar
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    Red face 20% of Japanese University students with 13 to 15 year-old reading abilities

    Guardian Unlimited : Japanese lost for words

    With its phonetic symbols and complex vocabulary, Japanese can defeat even the most talented linguists. Now it seems to be baffling native speakers, too.
    Nearly a fifth of the students at Japanese private universities have the reading ability expected of 13- to 15-year-olds, according to the National Institute of Multimedia Education (Nime), which surveyed 13,000 in their first year at 33 universities and colleges.

    The students were presented with a multiple choice test and asked to define nouns, adjectives and adverbs.

    Two-thirds of the respondents thought that a word meaning "to grieve" actually meant "to be happy".

    The study showed that foreign exchange students who had spent some years learning Japanese could sometimes read better than locals.

    The survey confirms a trend which educationists have noted for at least 10 years.


    And although the Nime report gives no reason for the low standards, the Japanese have long attributed the reduced vocabulary of today's students, at least in part, to the proliferation of comics, which use simple ideograms and sentence structures.
    I don't think this should be attributed to manga. I have used manga to practice my kanji reading, and some manga use many non-Joyo kanji (true that I read a lot of historical manga, but it's also a fact that there are lot's of them). And in 3 years of very casual learning of Japanese (only 5 month of lessons in a language school to learn the very basics of Japanese, the self-learning when I feel like it), I also have reading abilities of a 13 to 15 years old (actually more 15 than 13) and know many kanji that some of my adult Japanese friends don't. That brings us back to the question : why are the average Japanese so bad at languages - and not just foriegn but even their own mother tongue ? I think it is partly due to a too relaxed approach to education (as a matter of fact, almost nobody has to repeat a school year in Japan, even if they fail in all subjects).
    Last edited by Maciamo; Nov 26, 2004 at 00:15.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Maciamo
    I don't think this should be attributed to manga. I have used manga to practice my kanji reading, and some manga use many non-Joyo kanji (true that I read a lot of historical manga, but it's also a fact that there are lot's of them).
    I guess people everywhere are fond of making overgeneralizations about things, and looking for the simplest explanations for things gone wrong.

    Quote Originally Posted by Maciamo
    That brings us back to the question : why are the average Japanese so bad at languages - and not just foriegn but even their own mother tongue ? I think it is partly due to a too relaxed approach to education (as a matter of fact, almost nobody has to repeat a school year in Japan, even if they fail in all subjects).
    I don't know that this is true for most Japanese. I wouldn't be willing to make that assumption, but you know more Japanese people than I do (obviously -- I don't live in Japan).

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    Danshaku Elizabeth's Avatar
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    The worst incident to date was a severe talking-down at the hands of my Japanese tutor for the sin of using "類似は相違より顕著" in general conversation, of all places, mostly because she didn't know what it meant and it probably was unnatural in context (which I can understand, but no one should chastise their students for using a phrase simply because it was out of their range or easily reasoned out as this is). I later asked my boyfriend about it and his answer was it wasn't so difficult, but than again there are English words he has better recall for as well....

    でも、たまに難しい言葉を使ってはいけませんか? ひそかに自分の言葉力を誇りにしているん西洋人が多いで すね。。。。

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    Hentai Koutaishi Lina Inverse's Avatar
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    That doesn't wonder me in the very least. Of course, manga has absolutely no part in it.
    The cause for this is the extremely complex kanji writing system. With such a thing, a high illiteracy (or poor literacy skills) is practically inevitable.
    It's absolutely about high noon that they get rid of these way too complex kanji. They claim to be a very advanced country, but still cling to this totally antiquated spelling system, which only brings lots of pain and hardship for Japanese and non-Japanese alike
    I know that replacing the kanji won't be easily done, as there are many homophones and such, but it is a dire problem which really needs to be tackled now, better sooner than later, so they should better start working on a solution!

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    Regular Member bossel's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Lina Inverse
    The cause for this is the extremely complex kanji writing system. With such a thing, a high illiteracy (or poor literacy skills) is practically inevitable.
    Nope!
    I don't think, Kanji are to blame. That's simply a task of memorising. If people grow up with that system, it shouldn't pose a stumbling block regarding literacy. Actually, some say such a system even helps, from Wikipedia:

    "The use of an ideogram based writing system makes basic literacy relatively easier to attain than the use of an alphabet based one, so it is estimated that through the more prosperous decades of her different imperial dynasties China reached very high levels of basic, functional, literacy."

    Anyway, Germans use an alphabetic system & where did they end up in PISA 2000? Japan actually did better than Germany on the Combined Reading Literacy Scale.

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    Regular Member misa.j's Avatar
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    A friend of mine in Japan told me that there have been noticeable changes in school curriculum recently; reducing the number of Kanji taught at elementary and middle schools is one of them, also the formalities that students use to solve math problems are less.

    To persue most of the degrees unless their major is Japanese literature, university students are not required to know the number of Kanji, which are considered to be university leves, moreover, luck of interests in learning the language they already are supposed to be fluent doesn't help much.

    I don't think comics are the ones to be blamed on as Maciamo has mentioned, there are many educational comics out there.

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    Twirling dragon Maciamo's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by misa.j
    To persue most of the degrees unless their major is Japanese literature, university students are not required to know the number of Kanji, which are considered to be university level
    Isn't it odd that foreign students who haven't grown up in Japan and who want to attend a Japanese university or college must pass the JLPT1 test and therefore know like 2000 kanji. How comes that these foreign students won't even be admitted if they fail the test, but native-speaker Japanese who have studied kanji every day for at least 12 years and must take the infamous and supposedly extremely difficult "juken" (university entrance exam) manage to go through with a 13-year old kanji level ? Isn't their mother-tongue ability part of the juken ? One of two students could be lucky, but 20% out of 13,000 in 33 universities, that really means that the problem also resides in the juken not being that difficult (apparently less difficult than the JLPT1 for non-native-speakers regarding kanji).

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    Quote Originally Posted by Maciamo
    Isn't it odd that foreign students who haven't grown up in Japan and who want to attend a Japanese university or college must pass the JLPT1 test and therefore know like 2000 kanji. How comes that these foreign students won't even be admitted if they fail the test, but native-speaker Japanese who have studied kanji every day for at least 12 years and must take the infamous and supposedly extremely difficult "juken" (university entrance exam) manage to go through with a 13-year old kanji level ? Isn't their mother-tongue ability part of the juken ? One of two students could be lucky, but 20% out of 13,000 in 33 universities, that really means that the problem also resides in the juken not being that difficult (apparently less difficult than the JLPT1 for non-native-speakers regarding kanji).
    Isn't it also true that the JLPT 1 focuses on parts of the language that are, shall I say, less than practical? I've heard that passing level 1 requires special study for the test, as opposed to just knowing Japanese at a high level. It seems as though it doesn't so much test the ability of the test taker to use the language as it does the ability to learn the material for the test.

    Quote Originally Posted by Lina Inverse
    That doesn't wonder me in the very least. Of course, manga has absolutely no part in it.
    The cause for this is the extremely complex kanji writing system. With such a thing, a high illiteracy (or poor literacy skills) is practically inevitable.
    It's absolutely about high noon that they get rid of these way too complex kanji. They claim to be a very advanced country, but still cling to this totally antiquated spelling system, which only brings lots of pain and hardship for Japanese and non-Japanese alike
    I know that replacing the kanji won't be easily done, as there are many homophones and such, but it is a dire problem which really needs to be tackled now, better sooner than later, so they should better start working on a solution!
    Aside from what bossel said, it has been proven that it is quicker to read logographs than it is to read phonetic systems, such as alphabets, because the writing is converted first to meaning in the mind. With an alphabet, the writing is first converted to sound, and then meaning.

    I think that the hardest part about kanji is that there are so many of them, and that there are three different components to learn for each of them, sometimes with various subcomponents. Then there are the ones that mean almost the exact same thing. Despite that, though, I think that they are still useful and valuable in today's world. See also this thread.

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    Twirling dragon Maciamo's Avatar
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    The question is, do Chinese people experience similar "illiteracy" problems with about 3 or 4 times more kanji to remember for common use ? Do 20% of Chinese university students have 13 to 15 year-old reading abilities ? That would be interesting to compare.

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    Regular Member MWThomas's Avatar
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    How are Japanese students doing in the other major areas? Math, science, etc.

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    Regular Member misa.j's Avatar
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    Maciamo,
    Have you heard about "Kyoutsuu Ichiji", the entrance exam for the national universities; I believe it gets printed every year in the paper after the exam is over. You might enjoy taking it to see how well you'll do. It might be a good tool to measure reading ability required to pass the test.
    The tests for entring the private universities are less tough compared to "Kyoutsuu Ichiji".

    I think we can say the same thing about TOEFL using the vocabulary and reading materials that are way technical for foreign students, and there are college students whose language usage is much more limited than those of who intendedly studied English to get enough scores on TOEFL.

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    Yeah, I think TOEFL may be the English version of the JLPT. From what I've seen, they ask questions about things that no one really says, and some of the usages seem to be outdated.

    The Kyoutsuu Ichiji Shiken sounds interesting. I wonder if it's the same as the ACT or the SAT (standard tests for college admission in the US).

  13. #13
    Twirling dragon Maciamo's Avatar
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    I found this about the 共通一次試験. Click on 受験 and try the test, Not so difficult I think.

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    Ah, the good ol' search feature. Thanks for the link.

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    Twirling dragon Maciamo's Avatar
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    Here are new articles regarding younger Japanese's reading abilities :

    Mainichi : Japanese kids lag world in reading skills

    The reading skills of Japanese 15-year-olds have plummeted over the past few years, leaving Japan lagging behind 13 other countries, a survey by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) has shown.
    ...
    In the first survey conducted in 2000, Japan had ranked eighth in this category.

    Japan placed second and sixth in science and mathematics, but officials in Japan's Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology said that with the drop in reading comprehension skills, Japan could not be considered to be at a top world level.
    ...
    The average mark for the member countries was set at 500 in each of the four categories -- reading comprehension, science, mathematics and problem solving. The reading level of individual students was split into categories, ranging from "level 5" (626 points or more) to "below level 1" (less than 335 points).

    The percentage of Japanese students below level 1 rose to 7.4 percent, up from 2.7 percent in the previous survey and above the average of 6.7 percent for OECD member countries.
    ...
    In reading comprehension the top 15 countries and their scores were as follows: Finland (543), South Korea (534), Canada (528), Australia (525), Liechtenstein (525), New Zealand (522), Ireland (515), Sweden (514), Holland (513), Hong Kong (510), Belgium (507), Norway (500), Switzerland (499), Japan (498), Macao (498). (Mainichi Shimbun, Japan, Dec. 7, 2004)
    I'd like to know how Japan ranks in foreign language, history and geography. The two first are of course more difficult to evaluate. As I said earlier, I don't think the maths and sciences skills of the Japanese are bad by OECD standards. This test seems to confirm my expectations. But from the hundreds of Japanese I have met, their geography, history (even their own) and foreign languages skills are way, way below average. I'd say the last among OECD countries, and I know people from and have been to all main OECD countries.

    Yomiuri : Japan academic skills fall

    The percentage of Japanese students who recorded the poorest performance was remarkably high.
    ...
    According to a questionnaire included with the ability survey, Japanese students spent an average of 6.5 hours a week on homework compared to the OECD member average of 8.9 .
    That is strange. Japanese are often said to be very hard working, and students typically spend their evenings studying in juku or at home. I personally never spent more than 1 or 2 hours a week studying in primary or secondary school, but that was enough to learn 3 foreign languages in addition to my main subjects which were sciences and maths and in the last 2 years also history. In secondary schools, we had 32 hours of class per week, much more than what Japanese usually have from what I have heard. They start school later (9 or 9:30am instead of 8:30am) and finish earlier (3 or 3:30pm instead of 4 or 5pm where I grew up). In some parts of Germany (eg. Berlin), I know that they start school at 7:30am, but they finish quite early and often have the afternoon free or for sports. German people (except in one state, I think) also have 13 years of schooling instead of the usual 12. So there are noticeable differences among European countries, which shouldn't be forgotten.

    I would be interested in the efficiency rate of each country or state's system.
    Cnsidering that :
    1) some countries (like Japan) have few subjects apart from maths, sciences and their mother tongue, they can spend more time on these subjects
    2) some countries have more teaching hours per week or per year than others.
    3) some countries have a few years more or less of compulsory education (18 in Belgium, 16 in many other countries, 15 in the US).

    The scores of the above test alone are somewhat misleading. We should take the total number of teaching per subject for all primary and secondary school for each country and calculate the average score per x hours (eg. per 100h) for each country. So that countries with more emphasis on one subject or longer school hours are not advantaged. This is necessary as there are many usually optional subjects (foreign languages, arts, psychology, history...) which cannot be compared on an international scale, but which are given more emphasis in some cultures than in others.

    To give a practical example, if country A had only maths, sciences and mother tongue classes, and country B had many other subjects for the same total of teaching hours, it is evident that students from country A will perform better in maths, sciences and their mother tongue. I am wondering if that is not also why Japan does so well in maths and sciences, as students cannot have more than 1 foreign language, do not have 6 years of history and geography, and normally do not have economy, psychology or other such options.

    In my former secondary school, even with maths and sciences as main options, all students had to have 2 to 4 foreign languages (including Latin and Greek in the choices). Likewise, I studied economics at university, but had to choose 3 foreign languages and study abraod twice, as all other students. This may seem strange or even incredible to Americans or Japanese, but it is pretty normal in Europe nowadays.

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    Regular Member Sally_Hawn's Avatar
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    Yesterday, I saw it on Canadian news that Japanese high school students rank No.1 in Science according to a research conducted by an organization (forget the name, Economic something...) based on Paris.

    So, maybe technology is more emphasized than literature in Japanese educational system.

    Oh, by the way, Hong Kong high school students rank No.1 in Maths, followed by Finland and South Korea.

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    I don't know anything what teaching in Japanese schools is like, but I was told that for example in math, you only have mechanical exercises (a+b=c, ?+b=c etc) and not the more practical exercises (e.g. Jack and Jill bought apples at 10 cents each etc ...). I was on a course that had a Japanese lecturer on it she said she thought it was a very bad thing indeed...

    Many people have told me the "mechanical studying" also contributes to the fact that Japanese don't know English well either. But on another hand, in Finland studying foreign languages is more about studyign grammar than anything else. We have subtitles on foreign programmes, though, so you can't avoid hearing English (not to forget music either).

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    #1 procrastinator masayoshi's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Maciamo
    The question is, do Chinese people experience similar "illiteracy" problems with about 3 or 4 times more kanji to remember for common use ? Do 20% of Chinese university students have 13 to 15 year-old reading abilities ? That would be interesting to compare.
    The mainland Chinese use the simplified characters which came into practice exactly to remedy to the illiteracy problem there. Perhaps the Japanese should forget about political differences and borrow simplified kanji from the Chinese. I read that Koreans are making more use of Chinese characters again after totally replacing them with native hangul.

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    Hullu RockLee's Avatar
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    I think that it's mainly because the Japanese don't spend too much time on languages...but more on math and other technical courses..for instance, a 1st grade highschool student in Japanese class learns to count,subtract,multiply,devide with numbers till 100(or 1000) in that year alone...in other countries it's far less..they just work at a high speed..and the fact nobody actually fails is kinda retardet I think, they are going to school even after school, to catch up or for intelligent kids who are bored in class...as to come back to languages...with foreign languages they don't have enough GOOD teachers, and the pronounciation can be hell for a japanese person(remember the R & L )
    ~ Parempi hullu kuin tylsä - Better crazy than boring ~
    http://www.fin-style.be/blog -> My Blog about Finland and other random thingies.

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    Twirling dragon Maciamo's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by miu
    But on another hand, in Finland studying foreign languages is more about studyign grammar than anything else. We have subtitles on foreign programmes, though, so you can't avoid hearing English (not to forget music either).
    Well, that sounds very much like Japan. Schools teach mostly grammar and most movies are subtitles (Japanese TV is often bilingual, you can get the news on NHK in English and foreign movies and series in their original language). Considering that Suomi is not an Indo-European language, and that Japanese has maybe (please confirm) more imported English words*, why do Finnish people usually speak very wel English while Japanese pain so much. I could say the same of Indian people (from middle class upwards). Eventhough India is a former British colony and English is one of the 22 official languages, after spending 5 months in India and 3 years in Japan, I am positive that there are much more opportunities for locals to learn English in Japan than in India (just turn on the TV, look at an ad outside, go to one of the omnipresent Eikaiwa school, or use new kakatana words uttered by your friends).

    * eg:table, cup, door, chicken, tv, pc, bag, hiking, (swimming) pool, gym, tobacco, lion, cheetah, notebook, pen, calendar, camera, or thousands of other everyday words.

    Quote Originally Posted by RockLee
    I think that it's mainly because the Japanese don't spend too much time on languages...but more on math and other technical courses..for instance, a 1st grade highschool student in Japanese class learns to count,subtract,multiply,devide with numbers till 100(or 1000) in that year alone...in other countries it's far less..
    That's funny because some Japanese people I know thought that "foreigners" were better at mental calculations because they learned it more at school. They cited the examples of Indians who learn their counting tables up to 20 (eg. 19x19=361), while Japanese (I was told) only learn until 10 (eg 9x9=81).
    They seemed so amazed that, as they saw on TV, Indians usually learnt their tables till 20. What's the big point ? I learned these tables when I was 6 and 7 years old, and after we were supposed to do mental calculations like 49x23 (still in primary school). No need to remember it by heart. We learnt how to intelligently calculate fast. Eg. 49 is almost 50, so 50x23 => fisrt x100 then divide by 2 => 2300/2= 1150, then remove once 23 => 1150-23= 1127. That takes about 5sec. and this is 9 year-old level calculation in the school I went to. In "junior highschool", we learnt to calculate square roots mentally by approximation. Eg. what's the square root of 24. Well, we know that the square root of 25 is 5. 4 would be 16. 25-16=9, 24 is the 8th number, so it's 4+8/9 = approx. 4,88888 (that requires to have previously remembered that 1/9 = 1,1111, but that's in primary school). I tested a few Japanese (men amd women), and they can't do such simple calculations. How did they even managed to go to university (or highschool for that matter) ?

    Quote Originally Posted by masayoshi
    The mainland Chinese use the simplified characters which came into practice exactly to remedy to the illiteracy problem there. Perhaps the Japanese should forget about political differences and borrow simplified kanji from the Chinese. I read that Koreans are making more use of Chinese characters again after totally replacing them with native hangul.
    I personally dislike simplied Chinese kanji. Japanese kanji were already simplified from Meiji (eg. ‘). I don't think it makes any difference in recognising the kanji that they are simplified or not. The test above showed that many Japanese university students couldn't recognise some kanji; we are not talking about writing them.

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    Regular Member stupidumboy's Avatar
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    Well,I am sorry ,I might sound very rude and NO, I am not one of these elite pupils what I am about to saying ,

    But I personally do not put much meaning on this kind of test ,
    It just shows average performance of each nations' pupils and from my checking of the test materials -they deserve only to test how the national average pupils complete very basic curriculum.

    The global leaders who can make serious contribution for the national weath and global technology improvement mainly from the elite class.

    To check the elite class national competiton,we need to look at the result of the world math/science(physical science and chemistry) Olympiad/Skills competitoon.

    to leave some comments on the result of the International Math Olympiad,

    USA elite pupils did very well result in 2004 MATH Olympiad competition although their average result in PISA was not so impressive.

    Total score 212 the second standing just behind China(the total score 220-the TOP standing)
    That means USA elite pupils still doing very well and they will make serious contribution to move the world.
    China has the most numbers of elites in every category,

    TOP performers in math Olympiad 2004 were China,USA,Russia,Romania
    Even Germans(who are very unpleased with lower PISA rank) did better than any other EU elitist pupils in math Olympiad.

    South Korea had been one of the major top 5 in math Olympiad to the 2003 but this year 2004 ,we slipped to the out of top 10(behind Taiwan and Japan) and it was big alarming in Korean medias this year.

    Some average successful nations(in PISA test) did much lower performance in this kind of elite test.

    Korean medias focused much more concernings on this elite test than the average test OECD PISA. But Korean elitist pupils still one of the best performers in Physics and chemistry Olympiad and they will lead the national wealth and technology improvement in future unless our corruptive social system and mind would prevent their performance.

    average pupils actually are very difficult(or needs a lot more efforts) to make big deal for the world science and economical improvement.
    Yes just average. I am one of them.

    But I admire elite class pupils and we should encourage them.

    elite focused test-check the result which countries keep on the great performance steadily.

    Math Olympiad
    http://imo.math.ca/

    Physical science Olympiad

    http://www.jyu.fi/tdk/kastdk/olympiads/

    Chemistry Olympiad
    http://olympiads.win.tue.nl/icho/

    World skills competition(meister elites)

    http://www.worldskills.org/site/public/index.php

  22. #22
    Twirling dragon Maciamo's Avatar
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    I am not sure the results of the Olympiads are very significant. As you see, lots of communist countries (China, Russia, Romania...) performed well, and that is strikingly similar to how they perform at the Olympic Games. These people are drilled for tests because they want to show how brilliant their country can be. The truth is that many other countries care very little. I have participated to the maths olympiads once when I was 16. Anybody is free to try, but there was only one other person in my class who tried. I was qualified easily for the 2nd turn, but as it was in another city and on SATURDAY (i.e. holiday), I decided not to go. The truth is I care very little, and 95% of the other students cared even less as they didn't even try the first turn in our school.

    Anyway, I never considered maths as a very useful topic. Although I was good at it when I felt interested or receptive to the teacher (in which case I was first of my class, otherwise I could be last because I just didn't listen in class and didn't even care to try the test if I was too tired, as often happened when I was a young teenager), maths would have been the last subject I would have chosen at university, because it doesn't bring any knowledge that distinguish one from the masses (like philosophy, psychology or history), and is not practical enough (like economics, law, languages or medicine) to get an interesting job. I have always felt that computers are better at maths than humans, and it is therefore a waste of time and energy.

    If fact, that's about the same for sciences. I used to love sciences, and took it as my main option throught secondary school (esp. chemistry), but I now find that what I learned is basically useless.

    So contributors to the society from the elites will usually be those with a wide range of interest, philosophical mind (in the sense of thirst for knowledge and understanding the world), high IQ, good interpersonal skills and pragmatic personality. Mathematicians usually lack all of these, except maybe the IQ (but that really depends on the person).

  23. #23
    Hullu RockLee's Avatar
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    to compare countries how smart they are with only ELITE student is total bullcrap...cause there are only a few ppl in the country who are that smart and as maciamo said..they have been drilled for this...besides, it doesn't have ANYTHING to do with the topic

  24. #24
    Twirling dragon Maciamo's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by RockLee
    to compare countries how smart they are with only ELITE student is total bullcrap...
    You know, there is a way of saying things, and I would like that to avoid associations with bovine excrements.

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    Regular Member stupidumboy's Avatar
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    Yes, my comments has nothing to do with this topic but I just mentioned about elite students because I found PISA related posts here.

    based on my experinces of meeting some really ahead students in math and science ,I was really amazed by their ability.

    I felt limitation and aveage people like me need much more efforts to become their level or impossible. No I cannot be like them even if I driled that much.

    I seriously thought they are the real humans who will lead the global improvement.

    Thats all and NO, I do not decry the average or lower class students.
    I just value them highly.

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