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Hong Kong schools

Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam dismisses speculation over changes to controversial liberal studies subject

The contentious secondary school subject could reportedly lose its status as a ‘core subject’ for the Hong Kong Diploma of Secondary Education exam

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 03 May, 2018, 5:09pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 03 May, 2018, 6:05pm

Hong Kong’s leader on Thursday dismissed speculation about changes to the controversial liberal studies subject at secondary school level as “groundless” and accused those who started the debate of “making a mountain out of a molehill”.

Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor’s comments on the subject – which aims to give pupils a broad understanding of current affairs but which critics say allows teachers to impart their own political biases – came when she faced lawmakers at a question-and-answer session in the Legislative Council.

It was reported this week that liberal studies could become an elective “pass or fail” subject in the Hong Kong Diploma of Secondary Education Examination and lose its status as a compulsory “core subject”.

For years lawmakers had called for a review of the subject, which was introduced in 2009, while a task force was set up last November to review primary and secondary level curriculums.

Lam said two issues had caused waves in the education sector – the debate over whether Cantonese was Hong Kong people’s mother tongue, and whether liberal studies should continue to be part of the DSE exam.

“In recent times a lot of political issues have invaded campuses, so I believe some people are making a mountain out of a molehill because they think the education sector is too peaceful,” Lam said.

Don’t blame liberal studies curriculum for student activism

She reiterated that the Task Force on Review of School Curriculum, which had its first meeting last December, did not have a stance on the matter.

“[The task force] has not yet formed any views, and people are already worried, doubtful, or even saying that there are influences from the North,” Lam said, in a reference to mainland China.

Some people are making a mountain out of a molehill because they think the education sector is too peaceful
Chief Executive Carrie Lam

She said such accusations were groundless and urged people to give up the debate and let the government do its work. Lam said the administration had already addressed a number of urgent issues because “education has to return to being education”.

Lam, who pledged to increase education spending by HK$5 billion (US$640 million) at the start of her term, has been invited to an annual dinner hosted by the pro-democracy Hong Kong Professional Teachers’ Union on May 19.

Secretary for Education Kevin Yeung Yun-hung, speaking in Legco on Wednesday, said the task force’s review would cover the full secondary school curriculum.

“We will leave it to the task force to decide whether the review will cover individual subjects,” Yeung said, adding that the government had not ordered changes to liberal studies.

The Education Bureau said the task force would gather opinions from stakeholders and was expected to give recommendations to the government before the end of next year.

Hong Kong education reform continues, but Beijing’s role presents new challenges

Meanwhile, the Hong Kong Federation of Education Workers, a pro-establishment union, said it was reasonable that the subject should be amended.

“Liberal studies has been controversial since its introduction … so there has always been pressure to review it,” union president Wong Kwan-yu told a radio programme.

Should the task force recommend amending liberal studies, Wong said it would take four or five years to implement the new policies and that would most likely affect those who had just started secondary education.