HK to rename liberal studies and require students visit mainland China under wide-reaching reforms to subject

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

Hong Kong will rename the liberal studies programme taught to older students and require they visit mainland China as part of wide-reaching reforms to the controversial subject.

The subject would also be marked as a simple pass or fail, parts of the syllabus trimmed and all textbooks subjected to vetting, Secretary for Education Kevin Yeung Yun-hung said on Thursday.

The sweeping changes would be implemented by the next academic year at the earliest but a detailed timeline and the new name were not yet available, Yeung added.

Get the latest insights and analysis from our Global Impact newsletter on the big stories originating in China.

Some educators expressed concern over the reforms, noting certain changes were contrary to recommendations made by a task force in a three-year review of the subject.

But the head of the task force told the Post she “understood” the government’s considerations and she believed officials had still adopted most of its suggestions, including keeping the subject mandatory.

Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor highlighted the need for reforming liberal studies in the policy address she delivered on Wednesday. The subject had deviated from its original objective and should teach students about the development of China, the constitution and the rule of law, she told lawmakers.

In announcing the details, Yeung said current students would follow the existing grading system and syllabus for now.

“We observed that over the years there have been a lot of associations and usually some not-so-good connotations to the name,” he said. “As we are now going to refine the subject, we are trying to [give] the subject a new start… We have no problem with the word liberal. It’s just that when we discuss the subject with different sectors in society, there are certain sectors who feel that this subject is very bad.”

Liberal studies was introduced as mandatory for senior secondary students in 2009 to enhance awareness of social issues and develop critical thinking. But the subject has become controversial in recent years, with pro-Beijing figures claiming the teaching materials, which have touched on local identity and protests, are biased.

Former chief executive Tung Chee-wah, now a vice-chair of China’s top political advisory body, called the subject a “failure” last year and blamed it for the escalating violence among young people.

Under a one-off voluntary scheme, publishers submitted textbooks to a government-led vetting panel, and the revised editions were adopted at the start of the academic year. Alterations in some copies included removing the term “separation of powers” and stressing that civil disobedience carries legal consequences.

The task force released its findings in September suggesting liberal studies remain mandatory, although certain changes could be introduced such as required vetting of all textbooks.

But the review did not recommend changing the existing grading system from 1 to 5** the highest which is the same as other compulsory and elective subjects for the Diploma of Secondary Education Examination.

Task force chairwoman Anissa Chan Wong Lai-kuen said: “[We] have considered whether pass or fail, or adding the option of merit, could be one recommendation. But there was not enough grounds for us to put forth the suggestion. The current passing rate among students is already very high. We felt that students had not been feeling a lot of pressure [in terms of their grades]… and the stakeholders we have approached also did not have many concerns about the existing grading system.”

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

Lau Kam-fai, president of the Hong Kong Liberal Studies Teachers’ Association, said he was “shocked” by the government’s suggestions, especially the plan to reduce grading to pass or fail.

“Under the changes, pupils might no longer have the incentive to study and learn,” he said.

He also urged education officials to further explain which parts of the syllabus would be cut and whether liberal studies teachers would need to be retrained.

A spokeswoman from the Hong Kong Examinations and Assessment Authority said it would follow up the Education Bureau’s proposals.


Category: Hong Kong

Print This Post

Comments are closed.