‘Unsolvable’ exam question leaves Chinese students flummoxed

The word Maths, along with mathematical symbols, written on a green chalkboard

CHINA – Primary school pupils at a school in the Chinese district of Shunqing were faced with this question on a paper: “If a ship had 26 sheep and 10 goats on board, how old is the ship’s captain?” This question appeared on a recent grade five level paper, that was intended for children around 11 years old.

Pictures of the question surfaced this week on Chinese social media, where it started a debate and quickly went viral.  Education officials said the question was not a mistake, but it meant to highlight “critical awareness”.

“The captain is at least 18 because he has to be an adult to drive the ship,” answered one student.

Another student guessed: “The captain is 36, because 26+10 is 36 and the captain wanted them to add up to his age.”

One student however, simply gave up.

“The captain’s age is… I don’t know. I can’t solve this.”

Online, people were not as generous. “This question makes no logical sense at all. Does the teacher even know the answer,” one commentator said on Chinese micro-blogging platform, Weibo.

“If a school has 26 teachers, 10 of which weren’t thinking, how old is the principal?” asked one person.

While others were not generous, some defended the school- which has not been named- saying the question promoted critical thinking. “The whole point of it is to make the students think. It’s done that,” said one person.

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