Hong Kong students have mixed reactions to Liberal Studies revamp

  • Proposed changes include an increased focus on national security, patriotism and lawfulness, and a trip to mainland China
  • Students are nervous they could lose critical thinking skills and a global mindset
Kelly Fung |

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Students are divided over the proposed changes to the Liberal Studies curriculum.

A proposed revamp to the Liberal Studies syllabus, with a focus on national security, patriotism and lawfulness, will be implemented as early as next year, the Education Bureau revealed on Tuesday.

Details of the possible changes to the mandatory subject were included in a 41-page survey sent to school principals, to be carried out from February 2 to March 2. The questionnaire seeks advice from schools, to “optimise senior school secondary core subjects”.

Tiffany, 15, a Form Three student who will be among the first students to start studying for the DSE in September this year, said the revamp will take away the meaning and purpose of the subject, which was intended to encourage students to think critically, and give them a global perspective on sociopolitical issues.

Will Liberal Studies include current affairs?

“To me, the revamp has turned Liberal Studies into national education,” said Tiffany.

She added that learning about China is inevitable, but felt that the proposed changes have a very narrow focus. “This is like a “mainlandisation” of the subject,” she said.

What is Liberal Studies and why is it so controversial?

Hannah, 16, a current Form Five student at another school, is studying the existing syllabus, but worries about younger students, who will have to visit the mainland as part of the new course.

She believes that a sense of belonging cannot be forced, and such trips should be “spontaneous and voluntary” out of one’s love for their country, adding that the fact the trip is compulsory gave her “an unshakeable feeling there’s a hidden agenda”.

“In fact, I believe many of us would be repulsed by a compulsory trip like this,” she said.

She also said the cancellation of Independent Enquiry Studies means taking away a student’s right to analyse social issues and express their views.

Does Liberal Studies help build critical thinking skills?

But the other Form Three student, Jaden, feels very differently. He said the change is “a step in the right direction”.

“Liberal Studies would undoubtedly benefit from a revamp,” he said, “especially given the rapid flow of misinformation [due to] modern technology that often polarises opinions and breeds distrust.”

Five options for the new name of the subject include “Citizenship and Nations”, “Nationals and Society”, “Citizenship and Social Development”, “Citizenship and Culture” and “Social Studies”.

Two of the three modules, “Hong Kong under ‘One Country, Two Systems’" and “China’s Reform and Opening-Up", place an emphasis on the understanding of national identity and China's economic development.

Other changes to the subject involve reduced lesson hours, a pass/fail grading system and the cancellation of Independent Enquiry Studies (IES).

The changes need to go through a review process, and if they are eventually accepted, they will be implemented for Secondary Four in the 2021/22 school year and will be applied to the Hong Kong Diploma of Secondary Education (DSE) in 2024 at the earliest.

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