Yes, I too feel that sensitivity, or what I called mindfulness, is perhaps the most crucial element in intercultural interactions. You write that, ‘ If the written message is not well expressed or concepts not explained then e-learning definitely becomes a problem for intercultural learning’. On this point, I’d like to share something from yesterday’s newspaper that blatantly failed the explanation test and for political purposes seriously overstepped the sensitivity line.
The Guardian had this brain teaser yesterday (Bellos, 2015). The maths puzzle came from a Singapore test for 14/15-year-olds. Ostensibly, Bellos was asking if adult Guardian readers were as smart as Singaporean 14/15-year-olds (the article says 10-year-olds initially but corrects itself later). As Singapore scored highest on the problem solving test with a score of 562, Bellos tried to make the point that maths education in England and Wales may be weak if even adults cannot solve this children’s puzzle. The article may be seen to be a covert attack on the ruling Conservative government from the left-wing broadsheet. Bello’s rhetoric fails when he recognises the factual error in the age group targeted in the test, yet the article can be instructive for us here as an example of how cultural values present themselves in education.
- Albert and Bernard just become friends with Cheryl, and they want to know when her birthday is. Cheryl gives them a list of 10 possible dates.
May 15 May 16 May 19
June 17 June 18
July 14 July 16
August 14 August 15 August 17
Cheryl then tells Albert and Bernard separately the month and the day of her birthday respectively.
Albert: I don’t know when Cheryl’s birthday is, but I know that Bernard does not know too.
Bernard: At first I don’t know when Cheryl’s birthday is, but I know now.
Albert: Then I also know when Cheryl’s birthday is.
So when is Cheryl’s birthday?
(Reproduced without permission Guardian 2015)
It took me a good ten minutes to work it out … .
(What follows here is my analysis, not an academic report. Please feel free to disagree.) The language present is unclear, beyond the grammatical mistake in the first sentence (‘Albert and Bernard have just become friends, …), and I suspect that L1 users of English will be confused by the instructions.Maths texts (this isn’t even a maths question) typically don’t exhibit this type of language. The skill of uncovering the maths element in a word-based maths problem is a crucial one, but this actual task is a problem solving activity, i.e. a logic puzzle, not a maths one. If pupils in Singapore are taught the principles and methods of word-based logic puzzles and pupils in England and Wales aren’t, the PISA scores must be treated with a certain circumspection. PISA scores are highly regarded (I’d like to know if they are actually ‘respected’ or not) worldwide and governments make and change policies based on them.
I am a reasonably intelligent adult, and I struggled with the problem for a while. I can easily imagine a teacher demonstrating this type of puzzle and producing a class of pupils who can answer quickly. Can we draw such strong conclusions in education when the disparity between ‘learned’ cultures is so wide? I think not.
Alex Bellos, A. (2015). Can you solve the maths question for Singapore schoolkids that went viral? The Guardian. April 13, 2015. http://www.theguardian.com/science/alexs-adventures-in-numberland/2015/apr/13/can-you-solve-the-singapore-primary-maths-question-that-went-viral accessed April 14, 2015
OECD. (2014). Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) results from PISA 2012 Problem Solving Singapore
 I believe that PISA uses the term ‘UK’ yet their data is from England and Wales. If so, shame on them.