New exam puts system to the test

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 04 April, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 04 April, 2012, 12:00am


What sets the new compulsory senior secondary school subject of liberal studies apart is that it comes without model answers from textbooks. It is instead an exercise in reasoned thinking and debate. Hopefully this will enrich our students' education and, indeed, their adult lives, by freeing them from the bonds of traditional rote learning.

Exam questions in the subject for the new diploma of secondary education should therefore invite honest, reasoned expressions of views. It is doubtful that a question asking for comment on the credibility of our political parties met those criteria. Even chief executive-elect Leung Chun-ying would answer that one diplomatically. It would not be surprising, therefore, if some students did so out of concern that pro- or anti-establishment views might have affected marks awarded by a teacher with different views. Given that liberal studies are compulsory, people setting the questions need to be aware of sensitivities arising from divisions in society. Indeed, after the exam, students confessed that they had toned down their answers to a number of thorny questions to avoid the risk of 'agitating' the markers. Despite assurances to the contrary by officials, some educators say it will be difficult for teachers to exclude personal views. That tends to suggest that the introduction of liberal studies is an overdue reform of a rote-learning environment. It has to be a worry when future citizens say they feel compelled to self-censor their views lest they offend the people who are supposed to be teaching them how to think critically.

We trust that if students' answers make sense they will score well, whatever stance they take on topics like gender tests for sex-selective abortions and whether children should be forced to support elderly parents. In a planned review of the subject after the exam, the examinations authority should bear in mind that some teachers can apparently benefit from some more reasoned thinking, too.