Earlier this month, several British universities announced their admissions policy regarding Hong Kong students who have just embarked upon the new curriculum, which will reward them with a Hong Kong Diploma of Secondary Education after six years of secondary school study. The announcement may have sparked concerns over the international recognition of the new diploma, since the universities indicated they will not accept three of the four core subjects, including the centrepiece of the reforms, liberal studies.
The new curriculum is already controversial, with teachers complaining of a lack of preparation, and the first batch of students expressing little confidence in doing well. The new diploma also adds to the difficult schooling decisions faced by Hong Kong parents, who must decide whether the acquisition of the local diploma, or the British A-levels, or the International Baccalaureate will best suit the educational needs of their children.
However, the advantages of a successful liberal studies course should not be underestimated. In addition to the extra year at local universities beginning in 2012, liberal studies is designed to instil a culture of analytical inquiry and critical thinking, while improving general knowledge. The lack of formal recognition by overseas universities does not mean they will ignore the important skills acquired through its study. That teachers should feel so unprepared to teach the course, and that students should lack such confidence in succeeding in it, merely highlights how much the development of these skills has been neglected in the past.
Inevitably, universities faced with students having acquired qualifications from a variety of curricula will find it difficult to determine which is the better student, and rely more on the interview process. A successful liberal studies education could, therefore, better equip Hong Kong students to excel during an interview, not only for entry into the world's best universities, but also for their first jobs. In the future, one would hope that Hong Kong as a whole will also benefit with a new generation of independent thinkers and leaders.