Tuesday 2 February 2016

How exam questions contain assumptions and bias.

'Explain how the writer shows that this is a story from another culture.'

That's a question on a practice SATs paper in a booklet called 'Reading'. The story in question is 'Comfort Herself' by Geraldine Kaye and the paper included an extract from it.

Let's unpack that one, shall we?

'...another culture.' Hmmm 'other' than what? 'Other' than who? Other than the examiner? Other than the reader? Other that some mythical 'us'?

The culture represented in the scene is Ghanaian - which if you're Ghanaian isn't 'other', is it?

But the story itself is not actually Ghanaian. It's about a girl whose mother is white and English and her father is Ghanaian. And Geraldine Kaye is not Ghanaian either. So I'm not sure why or how the story is from 'another culture'.

Then what is going to show this supposed otherness? Well, if you're not Ghanaian, you might be drawn to the fact that people in this passage have Ghanaian names and some of the foods in the market are from Ghana but again, you can buy these foods in the UK and there are people with Ghanaian names in the UK.

There was a subtle point about describing the people in the market by saying 'bottom power, as it's called' so there's a bit of a nod to a readership that won't get this 'other' unless it's explained. Fair enough. There's also an indication (of course) the girl is 'from England' and this is Ghana. Is that what the question meant?

I doubt it.

I assume that the cultural assumptions of the question are directed towards the foods and names. What do you think?