Saturday, October 18, 2008

'Confucius, help me score As'

By April Chong & Liaw Wy-Cin

THOUSANDS of students and parents flocked to temples yesterday to pay their respects to the Chinesethinker-philosopher Confucius, ahead of his birthday on Friday.

And no time is more apt than now - the current examination period in schools - to make fruit and paperofferings to Kong Zi, as he is known to the Chinese. He is, after all, believed to bestow luck and mental acuityon those sitting for exams.

Petitions typically peak at exam periods, at the start of a new school year or when the devotee believes his or her academic performance is on the wane.

Confucius, born more than 25 centuries ago in China, is also credited with promoting values such as respect for elders and reciprocity. His teachings have since been studied worldwide and translated into many languages.

The 168-year-old Thian Hock Keng Temple on Telok Ayer Street marked his birthday yesterday with traditional court dances, prayer rituals and an exhibition on his life and teachings. Devotees had their foreheads anointed with oil by Buddhist monks. Mini abacuses, symbolising ability with numbers and hopes for As in maths, were given out to them. Confucius is believed to have invented the predecessor to this counting tool by fashioning one out of rope threaded with beads.

The exhibition, targeting the younger crowd, showcases the history behind Confucius and the values he expounded. It will be on till the end of this week.

The temple spokesman explained that although Confucius' statue is sometimes placed among the pantheon of deities in Chinese temples, Confucianism is more often thought of as a way of life than as a religion related to Buddhism or Taoism.

The Singapore Taoist Federation also held a celebration for Confucius at the San Qing Gong Taoist Cultural Centre in Bedok North with prayers.

Mr Chung Kwang Tong, secretary-general of the Taoist Federation Youth Group, said Taoists respect Confucius as a great sage and a contemporary of the Taoist guru, Lao Zi.

At this Bedok temple, devotees made offerings and lighted lanterns called guang ming deng to pray for good exam results. They also waited in line for Taoist priests to daub a red dot on their foreheads, which symbolically 'opens their eyes of wisdom'.

One family postponed an outing to Sentosa to make the trip to the temple to pray for blessings. Mrs Aliceal Lim, 45, her engineer husband Vincent, 48, and their three children aged 13 to 18 will visit Sentosa next month instead.

At this time last year, two of the Lims' children - Lester, now 13, and Cheryl, now 17 - were just weeks awayfrom the Primary School Leaving Examination and the O levels, respectively, when the family went to the temple to mark Confucius' birthday for the first time.

Mrs Lim, an office administrator, said yesterday: 'We're here to ask for extra help and blessings through theyear, we're not expecting a miracle. It's additional psychological help, but in the end, the children must do well and work hard on their own.'

This article was first published in The Straits Times on 22 Sep, 2008.

PSLE Press Ad 2007

Pirated past exam papers now sold on CDs

FOR years, there has been a sizeable blackmarket for old school exam papers, often a scholastic lifeline for students cramming for tests.

Now, the middlemen who illegally copy these papers have gone hightech,offering their wares on CD for just a fraction of the hardcopy price.

Even though reproducing the papers amounts to copyright violation, these CDs are available in some bookshops and can also be ordered via e-mail, fax or SMS.

Despite warnings from the Education Ministry, some brazen sellers have even taken to passing out fliers touting these CDs that offer to 'give your child ahead start at school' and help them 'score'.

With competition in schools becoming increasingly fierce, this is a problem that some educators said is not likely to go away.

'It is very difficult to bring these vendors to task as there are so many...outthere,' said Nanyang Primary vice-principal Loh Yuh Por. 'Also, the demand for such papers is high, so there will always be vendors who will come in to fill the gap.

'Covering subjects such as English, Mathematics, Science and Chinese, the CDs contain 10 to 12 papers from prominent schools such as Raffles Girls' Primary,Tao Nan and Ai Tong. Sellers said there was a ready supply of the papers,which usually come from students.

The CDs cost as little as $28 for four subjects, compared to $50 to $70 for the print versions, according to checks by The Straits Times. They are typically hand-delivered to the customer within two to three working days.

Most of the sellers contacted by The Straits Times declined to comment.

However, many parents have been buying the CDs for their children.

Mrs Z. Chong, a secretary in her 40s, ordered a CD for her son - who is inPrimary 4 - after receiving a flier in her mailbox.

Speaking in Mandarin, she said: 'With the CD, we can print the papers again for more practice till he gets all the answers right.

'Another parent, Madam Noraidah S., 37, who received copies from a friend, said the CDs took up less space than the bulky print copies.

'You don't have to keep the whole stack of papers at home and you can print what you want,' added the housewife, who has two daughters aged eight and 10.

A seller, who wanted to be known only as Mr Koh, said the CDs have become popular because an increasing number of Singaporeans were tech-savvy.

'The world has changed, so we have to change,' said Mr Koh.

Declining to reveal details, he said he sells 'a few hundred copies' of the CDs near exam periods.

The Ministry of Education said the sale of illegally copied exam papers was intellectual property theft.

Schools can take the necessary action to assert their copyright over their own exam papers, said the ministry.

However, some schools seem to be taking a hands-off approach.

The principal of Raffles Girls' Primary, Ms Tan Siok Cheng, said pursuing copycats would cost time that was better spent on other things.

'Although it is an infringement of copyright and intellectual property, if other children benefit from it, it's okay,' said Ms Tan. 'I'm happy that our papers are recognised to be of good quality. It stretches our teachers to set better papers.'

Ms Tan said, however, that she was concerned about the authenticity and cost of the illegally copied exam papers.

She added that her school had been exchanging papers with many other schools, but people who photocopy them should seek permission before hawking these tests.

April 15 2008
The straits Time