Legislative Council Meeting Members’ Motions: Thoroughly reforming the subject of Liberal Studies

MR CHAN CHUN-YING (in Cantonese):

President, the subject of Liberal Studies (“LS”) is one of the four compulsory core subjects under the New Senior Secondary curriculum implemented since 2009, and was formally included as an examination subject in the first Hong Kong Diploma of Secondary Education Examination in 2012. The objective of the Education Bureau (“EDB”) back then was to enable students to apply the knowledge and concepts acquired from other subjects to explore contemporary issues, develop the ability to think independently from multiple perspectives, cultivate positive values and conduct inquiry-based learning.

However, the subject of LS is considered the most controversial one in the history of education in Hong Kong. There have been ongoing debates in society arising from the subject’s idiosyncratic assessment format, fraud in Independent Enquiry Study (“IES”), lack of objective criteria in grading and overly extensive curriculum. The specialty of the training provided for teachers was also called into doubt. In recent years, there has been strong resentment in society that the LS subject has made the young people radical. Former Chief Executive TUNG Chee-hwa said that the introduction of LS during his tenure was a complete failure, and had indirectly led to the situation in which a large number of young people oppose the Government.

Chief Executive Carrie LAM pointed out in a radio programme in November 2020 that a big problem of the LS subject was the absence of a curriculum framework, and the textbooks were not subject to vetting and approval. She also said that problems with LS had arisen since day one. In the fourth Policy Address in her term of office, she proposed to rectify the deviation from the objectives of the subject and reckoned that LS had turned critical thinking into indiscriminate opposition.

President, I believe in this Council, colleagues of similar age with me have not studied this Hong Kong-style LS. As a matter of fact, each person’s abilities to understand, to think independently from multiple perspectives, to develop positive values and to conduct inquiry-based learning were acquired by gradual accumulation and perception through life experience, learning, work experience and contact with different people and things. It is impossible to achieve this simply by taking one subject. Moreover, it is inconceivable to conduct quantitative assessment on the competence in LS. As Members of the Legislative Council, we face many different issues every day. Before giving advice and suggestions to the Government, we have to look up and identify the information, consider and analyze it from multiple perspectives, and weigh the pros and cons. A critical mind alone is absolutely insufficient.

One of the modules of LS is “Hong Kong Today”, under which the teaching materials and examination questions cover universal values and the core values of Hong Kong. For a long time, we have often regarded the core values upheld by Western countries as universal values. Chinese traditional values of loyalty, filial piety, benevolence, righteousness and truthfulness; prosperity, democracy, civility, harmony, freedom, equality, justice, the rule of law, patriotism, dedication, integrity and friendship as advocated in the contemporary Chinese core values, and the core values of non-Western countries are nonetheless seldom discussed unless they overlap with the core values of the Western countries. Under such subtle influence, values of the West have become universal values, whereas the core values of our own country and nation have been drowned out.

As pointed out by EDB, the current LS curriculum is open and flexible, and can easily be misinterpreted by a minority of people. The Secretary has just mentioned various criticisms of it, including too much emphasis on discussion of current affairs and such discussions being too general due to students’ lack of systematic knowledge; such discussions being polarized and too focused on political issues as a result of the backwash effect of the direction of question setting in the public examination; and misinterpretation of critical thinking as a readiness to challenge authority and criticize and object indiscriminately at the expense of the principle of adopting facts as the basis of careful thinking and judgment. After the curriculum has been implemented for more than a decade, problems relating to its content, teaching strategies and even assessment are getting worse. There is an urgent need to reform the subject.

Nonetheless, I am grateful and delighted to see the determination and efforts of the current-term Government to reform LS. In the Policy Address delivered in November last year, the Chief Executive proposed a reform of the LS subject. One day later, EDB formally announced that the subject would be reformed and renamed, IES would be removed, and the result of the public examination would be marked as “pass” or “fail”.

EDB issued another circular memorandum again in February this year, stating that LS is no longer comprised of six modules but three themes, namely Hong Kong under “One Country, Two Systems”, Our Country since Reform and Opening-up, and Interconnectedness and Interdependence of the Contemporary World. It is proposed that the public examination will include multiple choice questions whereas Part B will be data-response questions. There will be one paper instead of two, and extended-response questions will be removed. Education Convergence subsequently suggested renaming LS as “Nationals and Society” to strengthen national education, and encourage senior secondary school students to participate more in study tours to Mainland of China. In my view, many of the above mentioned proposals seek to put things right.

President, I am very grateful to Ms Elizabeth QUAT for proposing the original motion today, and to Dr Priscilla LEUNG and Mr KWOK Wai-keung for proposing the amendments. They opine that the report presented by the Task Force on Review of School Curriculum earlier has completely failed to respond to community concerns, and the overly conservative recommendations put forth therein have also fallen short of the community expectations. They have therefore put forth a number of suggestions to thoroughly reform the LS subject. I give my support to the original motion and the two amendments proposed by the three Members today.

I so submit. Thank you, President.