Hong Kong’s education authorities announced last week that life and society, a subject offered at the junior secondary school level, would be revamped to focus on understanding national security and strengthening pupils’ sense of national identity. The subject will be renamed citizenship, economics and society and rolled out in two years. It will aim to strengthen students’ understanding of China and foster a sense of national identity, besides teaching them about their roles and responsibilities in society. The Education Bureau said the revision was timely as it was more than 10 years since life and society was introduced. Here’s what you need to know about the subject and the coming changes. 1. Why is the subject being revamped? Life and society was introduced in 2012 as an optional course schools could choose for students in Form One, Two and Three, or those aged 12 to 14. It covers everything from personal and social development to the economy and sociopolitical systems of Hong Kong, mainland China and beyond. It was not popular, with only a quarter of secondary schools offering it in 2019-20. More schools offered liberal studies instead at the junior level. Liberal studies, which was taught in senior forms, came under fire after the 2019 social unrest in the city, with pro-Beijing politicians saying it had radicalised young Hongkongers and led them to take part in anti-government protests. Last year, the Education Bureau replaced liberal studies at the senior secondary level with citizenship and social development, a new subject focused on national security, identity, lawfulness and patriotism. More schools then switched to teaching life and society to lower secondary students. It is now offered at three-quarters of public secondary schools. Number of axed Form One classes in Hong Kong increases almost threefold 2. What will change, when? Life and society aims mainly to cultivate students’ sensitivity, interests and concern for local, national and global issues. The new subject will focus on nurturing a sense of national identity, promoting students’ understanding of China and strengthening their feelings of belonging. One proposed learning goal is for students to grasp the meaning of national security and the importance of the national security law, and understand the constitution, Hong Kong’s Basic Law or mini-constitution, and the need to obey the law. The government wants the new subject introduced at Form One in all secondary schools in September 2024, and has encouraged them to consider running it on a pilot basis in the next academic year. 3. What will the new subject cover? Citizenship, economics and society will have only 12 modules, fewer than half the 29 modules in life and society. The 77-page curriculum framework for the new subject shows that half the modules relate to national security and national identity. The first module, covering “life skills” for Form One students, is designed to raise awareness of national security and being law-abiding. It also aims to strengthen media and information literacy by showing students how to verify the accuracy and trustworthiness of information, including in the media, and raise awareness of the impact of disinformation on individuals and society. Form Two students will study governance in the city, aimed at deepening their understanding of Beijing’s overall jurisdiction and the principle of “patriots administering Hong Kong”. They will also be taught to recognise the main crimes under the national security law. In Form Three, students will learn about the relationship between China’s participation in international affairs and national security in terms of resources, military and overseas interests, and also strengthen their sense of belonging to the country. 4. What has been dropped from life and society? The current subject aims broadly to help students develop enthusiasm and readiness to take part responsibly in public affairs and to understand, appreciate, respect and reflect on the city’s core values including freedom, social justice, democracy and integrity. These aims do not figure in the syllabus for the new subject. The words “democracy”, “social justice” and “integrity” are absent from the curriculum framework. The decision-making process of the government, including a suggestion to visit the Legislative Council, has also been dropped. US report outlines ‘devastating effect’ of national security law on Hong Kong 5. Why have a new subject when other ones already touch on national security and identity? Lawmaker and secondary school principal Tang Fei said the new subject would be the only formal one dwelling on national education and national security, whereas other subjects included only basic elements of both. National education and national security are also “infused” in the teachings for Chinese history, geography, history, economics, science, biology, chemistry, physics, technology, business and information technology. Tang said the new subject would go into both areas in greater depth and cover “a range of topics and knowledge, the constitution and recent economic and technological changes and development of the country”. Hong Kong police slam cartoon showing riot squad at school to deal with unruly pupils 6. How can schools teach the new subject on a pilot basis when there are no textbooks yet? The Education Bureau would supply teaching materials to schools that wanted to introduce the new subject from the next academic year, a spokesman said, adding they could also refer to textbooks for the current life and society subject. Textbooks for the new subject will be reviewed by a committee, whose membership will be kept confidential. The spokesman said the secrecy was meant to protect them from interference, pressure and prejudice in carrying out their work, and the textbooks would be available in 2024. Textbooks on the citizenship and social development subject for senior secondary students sparked controversy earlier this year, when they stated that Hong Kong was never a British colony but only an occupied territory.