DSE liberal studies was designed to spearhead Hong Kong education reform
More than a decade ago, I heard Chris Wardlaw, then Education and Manpower Bureau deputy secretary and key architect of our education reform, deliver a seminar on the Hong Kong Diploma of Secondary Education (DSE) to senior English Schools Foundation staff – the ESF had just decided to adopt the International Baccalaureate diploma.
He said the DSE’s design was inspired by the IB diploma – especially theory of knowledge, extended essay, and creativity, action and service (CAS), and the requirement that all students have a broad and balanced education through studying at least one science and one humanities subject.
Theory of knowledge lets pupils explore the nature of and interconnection between different areas of knowledge and ways of knowing; the extended essay requires research and a 4,000-word paper, while CAS requires students to reflect upon a wide range of experiences outside the classroom.
In the DSE, “other learning experiences” is designed to match the CAS. As for the other IB subjects mentioned, these are matched through a new interdisciplinary core subject – liberal studies. Its six modules span the humanities, science and technology, personal development and globalisation.
Students learn through inquiry, debate, critical thinking and the consideration of multiple perspectives. They are expected to integrate different concepts, skills and knowledge to research a key issue and produce an independent inquiry study.
While students in the IB diploma programme experience independent learning and inquiry in all their subjects, such learning can be realistically delivered through one DSE subject to start with, through concentrated professional development. In time, these modern approaches to learning could be developed in other DSE subjects. In essence, liberal studies was designed to spearhead our education reform.
Mr Wardlaw’s key concluding point was that while the IB was such a strong programme, it was never designed to be accessible to all students, whereas the DSE was designed for all students in Hong Kong, giving each an entitlement to a modern education as envisaged by our education reform. While I no longer have Mr Wardlaw’s seminar notes for confirmation, his visionary message endures in my memory.
Why the attempts now to dilute the role of liberal studies? Are we giving up on our attempts to promote the aims of education reform?
Cheung Siu Ming, principal, Creative Secondary School, Tseung Kwan O