Something is seriously wrong with the HKDSE Liberal Studies curriculum

Ernest Leung

There is more wrong with the subject than mere “logical fallacies”. It fundamentally contradicts its own stated purpose

Ernest Leung |

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Recently, a Liberal Studies tutor wrote an online article criticising logical fallacies made in the Examination report by the HKEAA. The tutor also accused Liberal Studies of giving students poor logical reasoning techniques. The HKEAA later issued a response detailing the overarching aim of Liberal Studies to cultivate critical thinking among students, which was again slammed by the tutor for not being a logical answer to his criticisms.

As a former DSE student myself, I can clearly say that there are many more problems beyond the mere problem of poor reasoning techniques in LS.

The first being the overt attention towards the need for logical reasoning and critical thinking so much so that they have become rather meaningless jargon thrown around by students, teachers and tutors alike. While logical and critical thinking is essential for the sound analysis of an issue, logical or critical thinking refers to the simple fact that our claims are warranted by actual premises. Yet, by throwing them around so much, these two “big words” lose their meaning.

According to the HKEAA, the supposed aims of LS are to encourage multilateral and creative thinking as well as analytical skills. Yet the very rigid examination framework and the existence of a mark scheme prove otherwise. Many of the questions in the exam, especially those in the Data Response Question section, involve statistics that point students to a specific social phenomenon. This is more an organisation, than actual critical analysis, of data. Moreover, if a rather specific answer is expected, what part of the question involves flexible and creative thinking?

Furthermore, no matter how often the HKEAA says that the answering format is flexible, this is certainly not how it is applied. The classic question type of “To what extent do you agree … (insert a debatable statement)” requires students to raise a few arguments for one side, and then a few more for the side they agree with. This is problematic in so many ways. First, just because there are more arguments in support of my stance doesn’t mean that my stance is justified. There is no regard to the strength of arguments in reaching my conclusion.

Second, the fact that students need to make up a certain number of arguments means that they will have to develop arguments that they themselves think are simply wrong. Third, one simply doesn’t have to think of counter-arguments to show that one is capable of thinking critically. The so-called critical thinking has been reduced to the ability to generate and rationalise opposing, yet not necessarily solid, arguments. It is easy for DSE students to name a few more typical question types for LS and much easier for them to recall a standard formula or framework for answering such questions.

Another aim of LS is to help students understand current issues. Students are expected to back up their answers with concrete examples. However, this emphasis on the need of examples, especially in the context of Extended Response Questions, simply encourages students to blindly remember pre-learned examples that can be used in multiple contexts. How does this enhance their understanding?

Creative, critical and logical thinking along with civic understanding towards social and global issues is something we want to see from our future generation. Yet, does LS really attain this goal? There are so many more things wrong with LS than logical fallacies. We should reflect on the current curriculum. Should LS continue to exist as a basic requirement for university? If so, how should we ensure that it can reach its goal?

Edited by Charlotte Ames-Ettridge