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Six in 10 teachers want liberal studies to remain as is, according to new survey on controversial Hong Kong school subject

Findings come as row rages over whether the compulsory senior secondary subject teaches critical thinking or promotes biases

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 08 May, 2018, 8:37pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 08 May, 2018, 11:23pm

Six in 10 teachers want the hotly debated liberal studies subject to remain as it is, the city’s largest union for educators said on Monday, citing a newly released survey.

The teachers said making major changes would lower the importance of the compulsory subject taken by Form Four to Form Six pupils in the Hong Kong Diploma of Secondary Education (DSE), or university admission, exams.

The Professional Teachers’ Union’s (PTU) findings came as a row over the place of liberal studies in the curriculum continued.

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Media reports last week suggested the government would consider making the subject elective and switching from a graded to pass-fail course. But the education minister then clarified that a task force was studying the issue and would only make recommendations next year.

The PTU survey was conducted between October and December last year through both online questionnaires and hard copy surveys sent in the post. It received 401 valid replies.

Close to eight in 10 teachers said liberal studies should remain a core DSE subject, while just over six in 10 wanted it to remain a graded subject and not pass-fail.

Most students in Hong Kong sit the DSE and have to do three other core subjects – English language, Chinese language and maths – in addition to liberal studies.

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But liberal studies, which has six modules including Hong Kong today, modern China and globalisation, has been blamed for stressing youngsters out and stopping them from taking other electives. 

In recent years, pro-Beijing politicians have blamed the subject for giving teachers a way to impose their biases on youngsters, saying this has resulted in greater political activism.

Pro-democracy lawmakers and others who want the subject to remain a core part of the curriculum say it is crucial for encouraging critical thinking. They argue this is why liberal studies was introduced as a compulsory subject in 2009 when Hong Kong switched from an A-level to a DSE system.  

Cheung Yui-fai, director of the union’s education research department, said: “If we make liberal studies a pass-or-fail subject, it shows society is not placing importance on it, or its learning aims.”

But subject teachers agreed modifications to how liberal studies was taught were needed.

Just over half of respondents supported cutting down the number of modules while about half said some modules could be made optional.

Kwan Chin-ki, president of the Liberal Studies Teachers’ Association, said some modules could be merged so teachers could save time and tackle similar topics together.

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“The public health and energy, technology and the environment modules are more factual, so maybe we can have them combined,” he said.

Cheung pointed out that if the government wanted to make any changes to the school curriculum or assessment methods, it would have to go through several “relevant procedures”, including consulting subject teachers.