There has been a lot of debate about the roll-out of Liberal Studies in the local education curriculum. But many teachers in international schools, myself included, have been clueless about its aims, goals and content.
So I was pleasantly surprised at how "international" and how relevant it is to us as Hong Kong residents, educators and parents.
International schools are those whose teachers and students are comprised of representatives from different cultural and ethnic origins. Their curriculum and ethos are not ideologically "national". As local schools prepare students for life in a society with increasing global links, an understanding of the programme could help the international community understand the relevance of the issues local students are studying.
The introduction of Liberal Studies in 2009 as a core subject in secondary schools leading to the Hong Kong Diploma of Secondary Education (HKDSE) recognised the need to prepare students for their place in today's global village, and the need to make issues "international".
Students are required to explore three themes: Self & Personal Development, Society & Culture, and Science, Technology & the Environment. The aim is to cultivate independent thinking, positive values and attitudes, and social awareness and adaptability.
More importantly, the subject looks at how these three notions are interconnected.
Understanding oneself and improving interpersonal relationships are the main themes that are explored in the personal development module. These themes are explored through key questions of the challenges and opportunities a person has during adolescence, and what interpersonal factors facilitate adolescents to prepare for adulthood.
The module emphasises our inter-connectedness to society and culture. Students learn to recognise that an individual's understanding and identity cannot be developed in isolation from its social, cultural and historical context. Instead, it must involve socialisation.
Students seek answers to questions such as how the identities of Hong Kong residents are developed; how our quality of life can be maintained and improved; and how we can participate in political and social affairs, and come to grips with rights and responsibilities with respect to the rule of law.
These questions are pertinent to all residents, local and international. This is because choices made by individuals have an impact on communities, local and foreign, and even on the global society.
The modules on science and technology aim to show how their influence has hastened social development and reduced the distance between regions.
They also discuss how science and technology have made social problems more complex.
Students investigate why people from different parts of the world react differently to the opportunities and challenges brought by globalisation.
Finally, they study the links between energy, technology and environmental problems and explore why sustainable development has become an important issue.
The Hong Kong Council of Social Service recently released some worrying data from a survey: about 74 per cent of parents with children between the ages of three and six rated their children's ability to get on with others as "unsatisfactory". Council chief executive Christina Fang Meng-sang attributed this to a lack of socialisation outside school and suggested that the government should attach a social worker to each kindergarten.
Can a social worker bring about a change in children's attitudes? Or could we nurture broader, more open-minded thinking through the way we teach?
Why not disseminate information on the Hong Kong's social issues through debate between students of international and local schools?
This would transcend the borders of subsidies and uniforms that divide us, and help to develop internationalism. Sometimes, it is not necessary to reinvent the wheel.
Anjali Hazari teaches IB and IGCSE biology at the French International School