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The maths question primary students in China (& everybody else) can’t solve

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Source: Shutterstock

Primary students at a school in the Chinese district of Shunqing found themselves with a maths question that was, by many accounts, “unsolvable”, the BBC reported.

Here’s the question that’s gone viral and left everyone in a baffle:

“If a ship had 26 sheep and 10 goats onboard, how old is the ship’s captain?”

Nonetheless, some of the 11-year-old students gave their best shot:

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

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

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

The district’s Education Department defended the question in a statement saying such questions “enable students to challenge boundaries and think out of the box”.

The test had aimed to “examine… critical awareness and an ability to think independently”.

“Some surveys show that primary school students in our country lack a sense of critical awareness in regard to mathematics,” it said.

China’s education system has long been criticised for its emphasis on rote learning, using note-taking and repetition, which hampers critical and creative thinking. (However, The New York Times reported a Stanford University study in October 2016 debunking this long-held view – in fact, Chinese primary and secondary schools are producing students with some of the strongest critical thinking skills in the world. It’s only in college that they lose this skill.)

Some fine critical thinking going on here. Source: Shutterstock

Some netizens agreed with the department’s approach, saying the question did inspire creative thinking.

One person wrote: “The whole point of it is to make the students think. It’s done that”

“This question forces children to explain their thinking and gives them space to be creative. We should have more questions like this,” another said.

Not everyone agrees with the Education Department, however.

One user on Weibo, China’s version of Twitter, wrote: “This question makes no logical sense at all. Does the teacher even know the answer?”

Another asked: “If a school had 26 teachers, 10 of which weren’t thinking, how old is the principal?”

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