Sunday, 11 July 2010

Doesn't one-third passing mean two-thirds failing?

There was such a blatantly unthinking spin-job (or absolutely rubbish journalism) in today's Sunday Times, that I simply had to blog about it. This was "1 in 3 foreigners passes new Service Literacy Test", on page 6.

So there's a new English proficiency test for foreign service staff that was introduced by MOM in May. This was presumably in response to ongoing complaints by locals about foreign service staff having a poor or limited, sometimes even non-existent, command of English, widely recognised as a critical common unifying language in ethnically diverse Singapore.

140 people have taken it to date, out of which one-third have passed. One would think the logical headline would be that two-thirds of the workers who took the test failed -- certainly that is what immediately came to my mind.

And when you read the accompanying box, it gets better. This is apparently one of the questions from the test:

Guest: Excuse me, can you give me an extra bottle of shampoo?
Housekeeper: Certainly, Sir. Do you need anything else... extra soap or towels?
Guest: No, just the shampoo

Question: What does the man want?

a. More shampoo
b. More soap
c. More towels

Come on! That was the standard of English proficiency being tested, and two-thirds failed?? And yet the headline led with "1 in 3 foreigners passes"?? That was either pure spin or poor journalism -- but so blatantly done that I couldn't let it pass.

Update/correction: There was a grammatical error in the original question which I've corrected -- that was all mine, and was not in the original article.


yjsoon said...

You couldn't let it *pass*? Nicely done, sir.

Also, did the test really ask the question as "what does the man wants"? That would have been very funny.

Kenneth said...

I can imagine in my previous career what would have transpired if I'd told my investors, "Good News, 1/3 of the positions are in the black."

conscience said...

Presumably, the 140 that took the test are the ones that are the most prepared, and yet they failed miserably (only one-third passed) despite the easy questions.

Good luck to the government in its efforts to integrate the hundreds of thousands of foreigners in our midst. You reap what you sow. Harvest is coming.

Kojakbt said...

Siew, absolutely agreed. This was my first reaction too. See:

We should work towards making the test compulsory to all foreign workers. Either that, increase the levy higher for those who do not pass the test!

This is really getting ridiculous!


Xtrocious said...

Hmm...1/3 = chance of choosing the correct answer out of 3 choices in the MCQ answers as well...

If they limit the choices to just 2, would the passing rate be 1/2?

Most suspicious indeed...hahah

soojenn said...

Hahaha.. good one.. "what does the man want?"

If a PRC "chicken" is serving, then the answer is not in the 3 choices... ha ha

That's your standard of English for Singapore. In the most countries, for e.g in the UK, you have to pass an English test for new immigrants before they issue you a residency, not only in understanding the language, one has also to understand the country, its systems and its culture.. truely pathetic.. wonder who are the "elites" setting this question?

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Siew Kum Hong said...

@yjsoon er the "wants" error was all mine... but I do think I'll pass the test nevertheless ;)

I can get by well enough with my Mandarin, but sometimes some of the PRC staff don't even understand my local accent and I can't understand their heavy accents! So I can absolutely imagine how much more frustrating it is for non-Mandarin speakers.

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