A pass mark for liberal studies

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 21 July, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 21 July, 2012, 12:00am


Hong Kong universities have a tougher job than usual choosing students this year. They have to pick from those with the new Diploma of Secondary Education, the last-ever batch of holders of the Certificate of Education Examination and those who studied other curriculums, the International Baccalaureate the most prominent among them. With far from enough places available and comparing and contrasting results difficult, the interview process will most likely be crucial. That is where knowledge and what has been learned come in handy - and liberal studies may prove the most useful.

Of the four core subjects of the diploma, liberal studies, the centrepiece, has been the most controversial. There are always doubts and challenges whenever reforms are implemented, but they are amplified if a matter as important to society as education is involved. Employers, parents and students expect schools to equip graduates with the best possible tools for further study and jobs. Liberal studies, a subject aimed at instilling analytical inquiry and critical thinking while honing general knowledge, was naturally seen as the way forward.

Teachers and students have struggled to come to grips with a subject not bound by the rote learning that has long been the basis in public schools for testing knowledge. With exam results showing that 90.8 per cent of students were given a pass mark - more than 10 per cent higher than for the other core subjects - it would seem that even those setting and marking papers are on a learning curve. That should not be seen as a fault or flaw - it is to be expected with what is new and unfamiliar. Time, experience, reviewing and adapting will ensure that objectives are fully attained.

In a fast-changing world where innovation is as important as know-how, societies need to be creative and adaptable. Liberal studies, a blend of science, humanities and the arts, help develop an understanding for issues and challenges. There are a range of solutions and, as students who have learned the result of their liberal studies paper now know, no wrong answers - only good ones. The trick is to identify which is the best.

Students with that ability are more likely to impress during interviews for their preferred universities and courses. The more the diploma curriculum develops, the better prepared and appealing candidates will be. But Hong Kong will also benefit. To face problems confidently, society needs people who are independent, reasoned and critical thinkers. We have embarked on the right course and the first products of the revised education policy are now making their way into the world. The achievements and inadequacies have to be properly and regularly reviewed so that the fullest rewards can be reaped.