Inside Stories

Designer of the ‘H.K.E.A. APPROVED’ label

Candidates were allowed to use calculators in public examinations since 1980, but calculators with character or dot-matrix display are banned from examination centres. Starting from 1991, the ‘H.K.E.A. APPROVED’ label was required to be pad-printed on approved calculators.

Mr Rex King who initiated the policy and even designed the label told us what happened in 1991.

Q: How did the Authority react to this potential mean of cheating?

Rex King: Of course we banned this particular calculator. But we then faced a problem. There was a list of 200 banned models and 300 allowed models. The whole thing was just getting hopelessly complicated. Invigilators didn’t want to go down the rows continually looking at the lengthy list to see if an individual calculator was banned or not. A new approach was necessary.

Then we found a company that manufactured a printing machine that was used to put Donald Ducks and other cartoon characters on articles such as children’s pencil cases. It used a very specialised paint, which was also very expensive, but it would stick to almost any surface including calculators.

Then we asked the schools, in turn, to send a minor staff member to the Wan Chai office with all the calculators from their examination classes. At any one time, we had ten thousand or more calculators stacked up, metres high in quite a small room. An Authority staff member spent several months using the machine to stamp each calculator. There was a famous occasion when the education reporter from the South China Morning Post, whom I knew quite well, came and took photographs of this room. One was published in the SCMP together with an article quoting me as saying that, contrary to the claims being made in letters to the editor appearing in the press, the operation to fix the problem was a minor issue compared with the scope of the Authority’s operations overall. This was the kind of challenge our work sometimes entailed. Not the sort of thing that one would ever have predicated happening.

Q: Who designed the label?

Rex King: I did that using my own computer. I found a very straightforward font and used it to print out the ‘H.K.E.A. APPROVED’ sign. Then I added what looked like a barcode using ASCII characters. This addition was designed to make it more difficult to copy. From that time onwards, the manufacturers also printed the label on the approved model of calculators.

Remark: The design of the calculator label remains unchanged over the years, except that it was updated from ‘H.K.E.A. APPROVED’ to ‘H.K.E.A.A. APPROVED’ since the Authority was renamed in 2002.

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