BEIJING'S top education official, Chen Zhili, is worried that Chinese history could lose its status as an independent subject in SAR schools. The mainland Minister for Education's comments, the first time a high-ranking member of the Government has spoken publicly on the subject, follows controversy over a proposal by the Curriculum Development Council which would make it an option to teach Chinese history as a part of world history. Ms Chen - who spoke to the Sunday Morning Post at an overseas conference - said the proposed change deserved more academic discussion. 'Chinese history is part of world history but as Chinese, we should learn Chinese history thoroughly,' she said. 'The subject should be introduced to students in a very comprehensive and scientific way. There needs to be more academic discussion on whether it should be merged into world history as a small part.' However, while giving her opinion, Ms Chen stressed Beijing would not interfere with the SAR's education policies. Under a series of proposed reforms of curriculum, schools will have the option to keep Chinese history an independent subject. The move has also served as a catalyst for the formation of the Chinese History Education Society earlier this month. The new pressure group has pledged to study ways to justify the existence of Chinese history as an independent subject. Its convenor, Dr Leung Ping-wah, said the group would look into whether other Chinese-speaking cities would keep Chinese history as a distinctive or an integrated subject. 'Many Chinese history teachers are upset with the suggestion which gives the option to teach Chinese history in an international context or as a separate subject,' Dr Leung said. 'We need to establish a strong premise that Chinese history is worthy of being a distinctive subject without any ambiguity.' He said teachers' skills should be upgraded to meet today's trend. However, veteran teacher and vice-president of the Professional Teachers' Union Au Pak-kuen supports the reforms. 'We hope children can learn history in a comparative way so that they know how China interacted with the rest of the world over time, especially in the contemporary era,' he said. 'It's very dull to teach the Chinese dynasties chronologically and to teach about what individual emperors or rulers did, as in the current curriculum. 'The teaching approach should become more story or activity-based to make it more amusing. Once students become interested in the subject, they can identify themselves with the country and their sense of nationalism will be nurtured.' On the mainland, Chinese history is taught as an independent subject in junior high school. World history is introduced in the senior years. In Hong Kong at present it is an independent subject throughout the lower forms of secondary schools but not compulsory. The proposed reform would make it compulsory. Public opinion on the education reforms as a whole are now being sought.