HK leader Carrie Lam defends liberal studies reform, and says subject was not meant to be debate exercise on current affairs

30-Nov-2020 Intellasia | South China Morning Post | 6:50 AM Print This Post

Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor on Saturday dismissed suggestions that reforming the liberal studies subject at secondary schools was political, and said misguided critical thinking which advocated objecting to everything about the government had to be corrected.

During appearances on several radio phone-in programmes, the Hong Kong leader said the government had no intention of withdrawing the subject entirely, but wanted to make adjustments to correct what she called “deviations” from some educational principles.

“It [the reform of liberal studies] hasn’t any political purpose, but is initiated out of educational principle issues,” she said. “We are not killing the subject. We are just seeking to make some adjustments to its curriculum.”

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Secretary for Education Kevin Yeung Yun-hung announced on Thursday the introduction of sweeping changes to the compulsory subject, which is being taught at secondary schools as part of the university entry exam.

The new measure is expected to be implemented by the next academic year at the earliest for all Secondary Four pupils.

As part of the reforms, the subject will be renamed and students will have to go on a study trip to China as part of the curriculum.

The subject would also be marked as a simple pass or fail, with parts of the syllabus trimmed and all textbooks subjected to vetting.

In her policy address on Wednesday, Lam also highlighted the need for reforming liberal studies, saying the subject had deviated from its original objective, and should teach students about the development of China, the constitution, and the rule of law.

On Saturday, she also denied that the overhaul was to override educational professionalism with political considerations.

“From day one since it was introduced 10 years ago, it has stirred up incessant controversies,” she said.

Lam said in recent years there had been growing calls to reform the subject, especially during last year’s civil unrest, when many students and even teachers had taken part in illegal anti-government protests.

“Many people have raised doubts over what has gone wrong with Hong Kong’s education so we need to look into it,” she said.

The chief executive pointed out that the lack of textbooks and guidelines for the subject, and the reliance on teachers’ self-made materials, had not helped students develop critical thinking.

“But critical thinking has now become a kind of debating exercise about current affairs, for which the students are easily influenced by some specific social opinion,” she said.

“Critical thinking under the curriculum has deviated into objecting against everything about the Basic Law and the government. I don’t think this is critical thinking. For achieving critical thinking, students should discern the facts first, such as, Hong Kong is an inseparable part of China.”

Former chief executive Tung Chee-hwa, now a vice-chair of China’s top political advisory body, called the subject, which was initiated during his administration, a failure last year, and blamed it for the escalating violence among young people.

Some teachers have raised concerns about the latest changes, arguing that abolishing the grading system might weaken incentives for students to learn.

An online petition organised by eight student concern groups urging the government to withdraw the revamp collected at least 7,000 signatures, of which more than half were secondary school pupils, as of Saturday evening.

“[The revamp] is practically a resurrection of the national education subject,” the petition said.

But the Hong Kong Academy of School managers said it supported the proposed reform of the subject but suggested adding the grade of distinction to encourage students to study hard.

Meanwhile, Lam said she remained vigilant about the possible return of anti-government protests despite the introduction of the national security law in late June.

“Some people said the national security law had restored stability to society and the violent protests had been stifled. But some also suggested the social unrest was just lurking underneath due to the social-distancing measures,” she said.

“I am afraid that if there is any controversy about Beijing, those protests will come back again. That’s why I’ve been on guard against any protest movement.”

In her policy address, Lam also highlighted the exercise of police discretion to let off minor offenders aged under 18 with either a caution or binding-over orders on condition they admit their wrongdoings.


Category: Hong Kong

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