Liberal studies has failed as a core subject
I refer to two letters regarding liberal studies on April 11, by Sue Sparks ("It's critical to learn to think for ourselves") and Jacky So ("Elect to ease the burdens of liberal studies"). While your correspondents are right to say the subject has a noble goal of developing students' thinking skills and civic sense, the outcome is far from satisfactory.
According to a survey conducted by Lingnan University in 2012, only 26 per cent of student respondents felt the subject enhanced their problem-solving skills, and only 22.7 per cent reported that it helped them become better citizens. More than half of the teacher respondents admitted spending a lot of time drilling students for the public exam. The fact that liberal studies is a compulsory exam subject has distorted its nature and defeated its goals.
Besides, as Mr So pointed out, there are two major problems with the subject. First, the scope of the curriculum is too broad. Second, the independent enquiry study (IES) module places impossible burdens on teachers and students. These observations are supported by the Lingnan survey.
It is doubtful that small adjustments to the curriculum can fix the flaws. However, if we substantially narrow the scope and scrap the IES module, can the subject retain its declared value? After all, liberal studies was introduced as a core subject on the grounds that it enables students to grasp a wide range of issues and construct knowledge by themselves.
The theory of knowledge, a core element of the International Baccalaureate diploma programme, gives us clues on how things could be done differently. Instead of expecting students to comment on a formidable range of current issues, the curriculum focuses on approaches and methodologies in different academic disciplines. But this approach requires a lot of teaching resources, which most local schools may not be able to afford.
Sometimes, policies with admirable goals can turn out badly and holding onto them will not do any good. Making liberal studies a core subject is one example.
Germaine Lau, director, Savantas Policy Institute
Seeking some answers on jury duty
Do any of your readers know the policy for jury selection? My partner works away from Hong Kong for most of the year in places which can only be described as unsociable.
He has just been called for a third time, the second time this year.
Each time a letter arrives from the court, I ring up and explain he is away and won't be in Hong Kong on the requested date.
Each time, they want written proof of his absence, and ask all sorts of ridiculous questions. Each time I say, "Why don't you just check with immigration? They will confirm his dates of departure and arrival."
However, this is apparently not in their remit.
I have lived and worked in Hong Kong for 30 years. I am a permanent resident, a homeowner, and I pay rates, utilities and taxes, but I have never been selected even though I am available.
When I mentioned this fact, I received no explanation as to why I haven't been called. Nor did I receive an answer to my question as to why they keep calling my partner.
Has anyone got any answers to these questions?
Sandra MacDonald, Lantau
More cycle paths are needed in city
I refer to the letter by Beatrice Lee ("It's now time for our government to get on its bike - literally", April 6).
It is important to develop cycling in Hong Kong and, with this in mind, the government's strategy needs to be improved.
This is illustrated by the fact that cyclists still die every year in accidents with vehicles. It is still dangerous for people to cycle on roads in Hong Kong.
Cycling has become popular, with Hong Kong cyclists enjoying success in international competitions.
Other advanced cities have a well-developed network of cycle paths, but Hong Kong has not done this and it should be rectified if the city wants to be competitive.
Everyone is aware that cycling is good because it is an eco-friendly form of transport.
The government needs to reconsider its strategy with regard to cycling in the city.
It needs to use the media to spread the message to drivers that they must be aware of the presence of cyclists. It also needs to designate cycling paths between roads and pavements and allocate more spaces where people can park their bicycles.
The head of a leading cycling organisation in Hong Kong has pointed out that, as Hong Kong is geographically quite small, it has great potential to become a city where cycling is widespread.
However, the government only regards cycling as a form of recreation and not as a means of transportation.
That is why it has only developed cycling paths in parts of the New Territories and most residents cannot benefit from this.
I hope officials will listen to those of us who would like to see an expansion of cycling in the city.
Cecilia Mok Sze-lam, Kowloon Tong
Berthing spaces review to begin soon
I refer to Howard Winn's Lai See column ("Fishy business on the rise in Hong Kong", April 4). The government's policy is to ensure local vessels and small visiting vessels can find suitable sheltered space during the passage of typhoons.
Under normal circumstances, except in areas where anchoring is prohibited, coxswains and owners of local vessels may anchor their vessels at any safe and suitable areas in Hong Kong waters.
The Marine Department will soon commission a review on berthing and sheltered spaces for local vessels.
A consultant firm will be engaged for the first part of the review by tender, which will be awarded in May.
The review is expected to be completed by the second quarter of 2015.
Regarding the number of licensed fishing vessels, you may wish to note that more new vessels have been built before the implementation of fishing vessel registration under the Fisheries Protection Ordinance (Cap. 171).
Those steel-hull fishing vessels mentioned are locally licensed fishing vessels.
Some of them have also obtained fishing vessel registration from the mainland.
It is not uncommon for them to call back at Aberdeen typhoon shelter for routine repairs and normal replenishment.
Daisy Kwok, principal information officer, Marine Department
Grants can help recycling companies
The environment secretary has announced a plan in which waste recyclers will be offered up to HK$5 million in grants to boost their capacity and efficiency from a proposed HK$1 billion fund to promote recycling which they must match, for a two-year project to expand their businesses ("Scheme gives firms up to HK$5m to recycle rubbish", April 11).
They can use the cash to buy equipment or vehicles or put it towards hiring staff, as long as the plan results in a reduction in the amount of waste that goes to Hong Kong's landfills, which are nearing capacity.
I think this new policy is a good one. First of all, apart from building a proposed waste incinerator in Shek Kwu Chau or expanding the landfill in Tseung Kwan O, it is another feasible way to deal with the city's waste problem. Building an incinerator and expanding the landfills have lots of drawbacks, such as adversely affecting air quality and worsening pollution. Recycling is a sensible option as it does not cause pollution.
The scheme will also help ease the financial burden for recycling firms as they already face high transport and insurance costs. It will also enable them to pay higher wages so it will be easier for them to recruit people and more waste can be recycled.
Furthermore, this scheme can make the public more aware of the importance of recycling. Hopefully, more citizens will be encouraged to recycle waste. If more people recycle waste, then less refuse will end up in rubbish bins.
I hope this scheme can help the government to deal with the city's waste problems.
Nadia Lam Wun-hei, Yau Yat Chuen
Nations must work together to save wildlife
The world's rarest gorilla can be saved at a cost of US$10 million ("US$10m price tag to save rarest gorilla", March 30), but will the funding be made available?
It is wonderful to see nations working together, no expense spared, in the search to retrieve wreckage and solve the mystery of the missing Malaysia Airlines flight MH370.
If the same amount of effort and funding could be put into eliminating poaching and educating people about the importance of conservation, what a difference it might make.
That a remote area of the Indian Ocean has been found to be full of human garbage should be a wake-up call to all of us.
Governments are co-operating and willing to spend billions to find the missing plane; can they do the same to help preserve what wildlife we have or will they wait until all that could have been saved is gone forever?
Joan Miyaoka, Sha Tin