Liberal studies should remain mandatory for high school students, but with textbook vetting, trimmed content and changes to teacher training in place, a government-appointed task force has proposed in a final report delivered amid simmering controversy over the subject.
The long-awaited report released on Tuesday also suggested that ongoing events were not suitable for class debate as it would be difficult to “engage in impartial and evidence-based discussions”.
Concerns have been raised as to whether the subject, which was introduced in 2009 with the aim of strengthening students’ social awareness and critical thinking skills, should be abolished or made optional, with pro-establishment figures blaming it for escalating violence among youth.
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City leader Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor in May said the government would announce changes to the subject based on the task force’s report within the year, stressing the education system should not become a “chicken coop without a flap”.
The task force’s 48-page report, published after a three-month consultation last year, said the bureau should consider making the vetting of liberal studies textbooks mandatory if the process “proves successful and is accepted by the education community and the public”.
It also recommended the bureau organise citywide teacher professional development programmes to “refresh and develop liberal studies teachers’ knowledge of the rationale, aims and objectives” of the subject.
A major school-based assessment project for the subject should become optional for students, while “newly emerging current issues that are still developing” were suggested as unsuitable for discussions in class as it would be difficult to verify objectivity and reliability of the information gathered.
“There are … various allegations holding the subject responsible for the violent and radical behaviour of some youngsters in the recent social unrest, and individual teachers for abusing the [liberal studies] subject as a platform to put forward their own political views,” the report read.
“To alleviate the controversies arising from this subject and to bring its curriculum intent to fruition … quality assurance of resource materials on the market, professional development of teachers and school accountability measures, and alignment of examination and assessment with curriculum have to be conducted and strengthened.”
The suggested changes to the subject are part of an overall curriculum review conducted by the task force set up by Lam in 2017.
A source familiar with the review said the task force disagreed with the suggestion of turning liberal studies into an elective subject, as there was no evidence to support claims that it was useless or even counterproductive.
Lau Kam-fai, president of the Hong Kong Liberal Studies Teachers’ Association, said while he welcomed the subject remaining compulsory, he disagreed with mandatory vetting of textbooks which could violate the initial aim of allowing teachers more freedom, given the fast-changing nature of the subject matter covered.
But student activist Isaac Cheng Ka-long, spokesman for the newly founded concern group Education Breakthrough, called the suggestions a political move disguised as educational reform.
Authorities would be able to present their version of events through vetting textbooks, which made it impossible for students to grasp the big picture in society, he said.
Cheng also worried the training provided to teachers might end up restricting what they could teach.
“For example, there may be no longer room to discuss the national security law and whether it was constitutional.”
Chair professor of sociology at Education University Stephen Chiu Wing-kai, who has helped design the liberal studies curriculum since 2005, said however that there was no problem in principle with vetting textbooks, although teachers should be given the room to select materials for the subject.
Comprising education officials, school heads and university professors, the task force was charged with enhancing primary and secondary students’ learning capacity and better catering to their diverse abilities, needs and development via the review.
Students taking the three-year local senior secondary curriculum are required to take four compulsory subjects – Chinese and English languages, mathematics and liberal studies – as well as two to three electives, including the sciences and arts.
The report also suggested that the modes of assessment in the Chinese language subject should be reviewed, including consideration on how to remove or combine the speaking and listening papers, as well as further streamlining the English language subject’s school-based assessments.
For the moral and civic education curriculum in primary and secondary schools, the report noted that pupils’ understanding of the nation should be strengthened in future, while respect for the rule of law should also be highlighted.
The Education Bureau said on Tuesday it would be studying the report carefully, adding that it would consider views from different bodies before undertaking follow-up work.
Additional reporting by Gary Cheung and Chris Lau
More from South China Morning Post:
- What is liberal studies in Hong Kong and why is it controversial?
- Hong Kong education chief denies changes to Liberal Studies textbooks amount to political censorship