In 2019, the proposed amendment to the Hong Kong extradition bill triggered waves of protests which saw swathes of students and youngsters taking to the streets. Pro-establishment politicians and Chinese state media blamed the controversial Liberal Studies subject for “misleading young people”. A new plan to introduce more mainland China topics and less on current affairs has now been set to “get students back on track”.
In addition, the so-called “Liberal Studies” which were initially designed to encourage students’ critical thinking and have been widely promoted, have descended into courses rampant with biased and selective materials, leading students into forming a negative view of the Chinese mainland.
The subject was first introduced in September 2009 and taught for three years in junior secondary education, three years in new senior secondary (NSS) education, followed by an assessment in the Hong Kong Diploma of Secondary Education Examination (HKDSE). Students had to attain a minimum of level 2 for Liberal Studies to get a ticket to university, with the maximum level being a 5**. In 2020, over 87.6% of HKDSE candidates scored level 2 or above.
What is Liberal Studies?
The original Liberal Studies curriculum covered six modules in three areas of study and an Independent Enquiry Study (IES). There were three components of the assessment of Liberal Studies in HKDSE: two public examination papers, and a school-based assessment or IES (20%).
In the original Liberal Studies Curriculum and Assessment Guide (Secondary 4 – 6) created by the Curriculum Development Council and The Hong Kong Examinations and Assessment Authority (HKEAA), students and educators were told that “together with the other core subjects and elective subjects, [Liberal Studies] helps to achieve a balance between breadth and depth in the school curriculum.”
An array of learning outcomes was listed (see extract below) – but it’s possible this may all change with the revised curriculum – as it has been alleged by some to be a “radicalizing” subject.
What changes were suggested?
In its 2017 Policy Address, the Hong Kong government appointed a task force to review the school curriculum, including Liberal Studies, in a bid to uphold a “led by professionals” principle. The Task Force on Review of School Curriculum released a long-awaited report in September 2020, recommending that the Education Bureau (EDB):
- Keep Liberal Studies as a compulsory core subject in HKDSE,
- Allow students to opt-out of IES,
- Introduce mandatory scrutinising and vetting process of Liberal Studies textbooks,
- Redesign the curriculum, and
- Trim the content of Liberal Studies.
What has changed?
The EDB has rolled out a School Questionnaire Survey for Optimising the Senior Secondary Core Subjects earlier this month, outlining the proposed changes to Liberal Studies. Six modules in three areas of study have been eliminated to ten topics in three themes:
- Hong Kong under “One Country, Two Systems”
- Our Country since Reform and Opening-up
- Interconnectedness and Interdependence of the Contemporary World
The total lesson time for the restructured subject will be reduced to 130-150 hours. After the optimisation, it is expected to free up about 100 hours for other activities. As a result of the stigmatization by pro-establishment figures, the EDB also suggested renaming the subject entirely. The proposed names involve Citizenship and Nation, Nationals and Society, Citizenship and Social Development, Citizenship and Culture, Social Studies or others.
Apart from the renaming, the subject will also become a pass-or-fail subject with one single examination paper. There will not be a school-based assessment / IES. Short questions and multiple-choice questions will account for 30% of the final grade, and the remaining will be determined by performance in data-response questions. Sample questions have also been released in the School Questionnaire Survey.
The new curriculum is expected to be implemented in September for the incoming batch of NSS students, and in 2024 for HKDSE to allow for the current cohort to finish the original syllabus. But exact changes to textbooks and examinations remain to be seen.