Since Hong Kong introduced liberal studies in secondary school curriculums, quite a few students have been asking to interview journalists from this newspaper about the most topical issues in the news today. Some questions are naïve, but more often they are intelligent and probing. If such anecdotal evidence is any guide, the experiment by the education authorities, despite many hiccups and much criticism, has succeeded in stimulating deeper and less formulaic inquiry among youngsters.
Now official examiners seem to have outdone themselves. This year's university entrance exam, the Hong Kong Diploma for Secondary Education, has included such previously taboo topics as the June 4, 1989 crackdown and the filibuster campaign in the legislature by some pan-democrats against various government proposals.
There are conspiracy theories as to why such topics have been introduced, but they deserve to be summarily dismissed. Others have questioned whether secondary school graduates are equipped to address such topics adequately, that is, whether it is fair to ask such questions in a university entrance exam. That's nonsense. To have a reasonable viewpoint and an analytical explanation on such issues, all that a student needs is to have a serious interest in the topic. If a young person cannot deal with such topics analytically, you wonder if he or she is ready for university.
There are concerns that students may be penalised for giving politically incorrect answers. It is true that examiners have traditionally preferred standard, especially multiple-choice, answers. But as the Education Bureau has clarified, examiners should not be looking for "correct" answers, but the degrees of understanding and analysis in the answers pupils give.
For grading purposes, it must be irrelevant what political stances students defend, so long as they offer articulate and well-crafted answers.