Sunday, November 10, 2013

Zhang Xin 張欣 - No “correct” answers

“When I first got there (University of Sussex, UK), I though, ‘there has to be a model answer so these essays we write every week,’ because that is how the Chinese write. I would submit the essay and my tutor ... wasn’t interested at all whether this answer was right or wrong. Only later, I understood this was a way of cultivating your intellectual curiosity. That is still largely missing in Chinese education.”

Many people have been expressing similar thoughts.  This time, however, it was Zhang Xin, property developer, chief executive director Soho China, one of the country’s most influential real estate companies.  Her words appeared in an interview in the Post Magazine, published in South China Morning Post.  

Her words reminded me of what is transpiring in our class rooms this semester in the subject “Information and Internet Ethics: Whose Data Is It Anyway?”  Is Snowden’s releasing alleged illegal collection of personal data by the National Security Agency an attack on USA’s national security?  Is China’s recent 500-repost rumour law an unacceptable restriction of freedom of information?  Is the Hong Kong government’s refusal to grant a free TV license to HKTV an attempt to manipulate the free operation of the market?  Political control of the media?  Black-box operation of the government? ...

We also told our students similar things.  That the point is not to find the “correct” answer.  Rather it is to identify the issues, the relevant principles, and learn to apply the principles.  That there will be a lot of interactions and discussions, to sharpen and test our ideas. 

At the beginning of the semester, we had quite a few students from the Chinese mainland in our class.  Soon all of them dropped out.  We are now left with ~40 Hong Kong students, and a few Korean students.  We were wondering whether the lack of a promise of clear-cut answers and the promise of frequent discussions had something to do with it.  

The current classes and discussions turn out to be quite lively. 

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