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28 Jan, 2018 21:00

26 sheep, 10 goats & ship’s captain: Unsolvable math problem puzzles Chinese students

26 sheep, 10 goats & ship’s captain: Unsolvable math problem puzzles Chinese students

Students in southwestern China were confounded by a seemingly impossible math question involving sheep, goats, and the captain of a ship. Some of the top-notch answers they came up with appeared in the Chinese media.

The question – posed to grade five pupils at a school in Nanchong, Sichuan province – asked the students to determine the age of a ship’s captain if there were 26 sheep and 10 goats on his vessel, the South China Morning Post reported. Photos of the test were published by Chinese news portal The Paper.

Anyone with half a brain cell could tell there was no feasible way to answer the problem. But that didn’t stop the students having a crack at it.

Some chose to make a joke of it. “The captain is 36 years old. He is quite narcissistic, so the number of animals corresponds to his age,” one pupil wrote.

Others tried to use at least a little bit of logic. “The captain should be at least 18 years old because a minor is not allowed by law to operate a vessel,” another student wrote.

Then there were those who got straight to the point: “We cannot be sure of the captain’s age. The number of the sheep and goats is irrelevant to the captain’s age,” one said.

The primary school faced understandable questions about what on earth the bizarre question was meant to show. The school said the math problem was aimed at testing students’ critical thinking – adding that there was no right or wrong answer.

“The role of education is not to produce standardized spare parts ... Each answer can reflect a different personality. A question that can have different answers is a good question,” it said. The school added that it would continue to use such questions in its curriculum.

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It did, however, say it welcomes feedback from the public, even negative. One online commenter wrote: “The question has nothing to do with mathematics ... It doesn’t test the pupils’ ability to understand maths.”

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