Political questions can give insight into young minds

Liberal studies exam questions have opened the way for discussion of sensitive topics in schools

PUBLISHED : Monday, 15 April, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 15 April, 2013, 2:53am

Spring is never the best season for Hong Kong, with its unbearable humidity and fluctuating temperatures. But for some 70,000 secondary school six pupils, the weather will be just one more thing for them to bear.

Last week was the start of the university entrance exam, the Hong Kong Diploma for Secondary Education.

Held annually, the HKDSE will dictate the fate of pupils who are vying for one of the hotly contested 15,000 government-subsidised university places.

Putting the umbrellas and anxiety aside, this year's main exams had a little surprise.

The liberal studies paper contained questions on politically controversial topics.

Some teachers were jubilant when they unfolded the question paper and realised that the previously taboo subjects - the June 4 crackdown at Tiananmen Square and the filibuster campaigns in the city - were key topics in the exam.

A number of pupils chose the two questions, according to supervisors at the exam venues. Some supervisors suggested that it could be a subtle move by the authorities to endorse the validity of the topics at school level, at least for the sake of discussion.

Any doubts about whether schools can discuss the issues should now be put aside as the topics have been raised in the exams.

Putting conspiracy theories aside, some also raised a pragmatic question as to whether pupils were equipped to provide a knowledgable answer to the problems.

"Politics is never an easy subject," teacher Tang Fei said. "I learned that some students who chose to answer the questions in English simply did not understand the word filibuster. So they had no idea how to answer the compulsory questions," he said.

After all, political philosophy has been a subject for top thinkers for generations who frequently attempt to prove there is no final answer, as Immanuel Kant famously put forward.

So it is reasonable for critics to question if the young minds at the secondary level should be asked to draw conclusions about complex matters in the world.

But the more pressing and practical task for the markers of the papers is to be prepared to give grades without prejudice. The examiners should once again show impartiality with a balanced and sensible marking scheme.

It is also interesting to note that officials have said that the candidates should express their thoughts without fear of being punished for their political beliefs.

Many pupils may candidly express their views on the subjects, providing valuable feedback for those who want to gauge public opinion about the country and Hong Kong.

Of course, a young person's thinking and feelings cannot be measured just by asking them what they think about the good or bad aspects of a particular event.

The best way to understand the future leaders of society is through the internet, where the opinions and thoughts of young minds flow freely without fear of censure.