New test 'simpler but no surprise'
After a controversial build-up, 70,000 high school pupils sat the first liberal studies exam yesterday, coming to grips with thorny issues and, in some cases, toning down their answers to avoid 'agitating' markers.
Liberal studies became a compulsory subject for upper secondary pupils under the new Hong Kong Diploma of Secondary Education. There are no model answers for the subject, which is supposed to encourage pupils to express their own views.
But liberal studies has sparked sharp debate among observers, with one education group warning that the failure rate could be between 30 and 70 per cent.
Yesterday's exam tested critical thinking on various topics, including globalisation, gender tests for sex-selective abortions, and whether children should be legally forced to support elderly parents. They were also asked to comment on the credibility of political parties in Hong Kong.
Most pupils questioned yesterday said the questions were generally what they had expected. Some said the questions seemed to have been simplified after a practice paper in January was criticised for being too broad and lengthy.
Many still thought they would get higher marks by toning down strong opinions, despite assurances to the contrary by education authorities.
Exam-taker Cheung Chi-chung admitted moderating his answers to avoid 'agitating markers'. 'I want to play safe because the person who marks your paper may have subjective feelings towards something. If I answer too conservatively or radically, it may agitate the marker,' he said.
Officials have repeatedly said that as long as students' answers make sense, they will score well. Also, at least two teachers will mark each question, to ensure fairness.
Zaref Khan, another candidate, said he avoided questions that required technical knowledge. 'I didn't choose a question that asked about the third airport runway in Hong Kong, since it is too broad,' he said.
Candidate Kevin Chan, from Kwun Tong, said he could have used 20 more minutes to finish the test.
There was no shortage of commentators on yesterday's exercise, with one education professor saying exam markers would have difficulty setting aside their personal opinions on 'extremely controversial issues'.
Cultural commentator Mathias Woo Yan-wai warned about the advanced nature of the exam. 'Every question could be an exam question for university students. I don't even know whether those who grade the subject have enough specialised knowledge of political philosophies.'
Political analyst James Sung Lap-kung faulted one question, on Hong Kong's political parties, calling it 'defective' because it was based on a survey done last year.
'The political situation could have changed a lot from last year to this year,' he said.
Dr Leung Yan-wing, who teaches educational policy at the Hong Kong Institute of Education, said that on controversial questions, markers would no doubt find it hard to exclude their personal views. 'If the issue involves fundamental core values, it will be difficult for markers to exclude any personal views,' he said.
A full review would be conducted after the exam, the Examinations and Assessment Authority said.
Commentator Woo said that rather than being a compulsory subject, liberal studies should become an elective, while more school resources should be used to improve students' understanding of philosophy, literature and history.
The number of compulsory subjects, including liberal studies, in the Hong Kong Diploma of Secondary Education