The reform of Liberal Studies by the Education Bureau (EDB) has aroused public concern. While it has met with wide support from society, some media and organisations have made various comments on the arrangements to optimise the subject. Some of these comments are based on speculations rather than facts, and completely misinterpret the original intent of the bureau' s reform of the subject. In order to clarify the misunderstanding of the reform among some members of the public, the EDB would like to respond as follows:
The four senior secondary core subjects currently take up more than half of the lesson time in many schools and students lack space. To varying degrees, the implementation of each of the four core subjects also needs to be optimised. After nearly three years of consultation and discussion by the Task Force on Review of School Curriculum (Task Force), one of the recommendations of its report is to optimise the four senior secondary core subjects to create space for students and cater for learner diversity. The EDB has thoroughly considered the recommendations of the Task Force and responded to the views of different stakeholders. The Curriculum Development Council-Hong Kong Examinations and Assessment Authority (CDC-HKEAA) Committees of the relevant subjects will follow up on the recommendations and put up optimisation proposals. It is hoped that schools could have more curriculum flexibility for creating space for students with a view to broadening their learning experience, and enabling them to pursue their interests and develop their potentials.
The current Liberal Studies curriculum is open and flexible and can easily be misinterpreted by a minority of people, resulting in deviations in its implementation. Criticisms of it include: too much emphasis on discussion of current affairs; such discussions being too general due to students' lack of systematic knowledge; such discussions being polarised 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 criticise and object indiscriminately at the expense of the principle of adopting facts as the basis of careful thinking and judgement. After the curriculum has been implemented for more than a decade, the problems about its content, teaching strategies and even assessment are getting worse. There is an urgent need to reform the subject.
The role of the EDB in education is not only to provide resources, but also to formulate and implement education policies, to lead the curriculum and the education profession, and at the same time play a monitoring role. The ongoing tasks related to the curriculum include continuous review and optimisation of the school curriculum. It is incumbent upon the EDB to safeguard the education profession and protect the interests of students. Therefore, the EDB cannot disregard the long-standing deviations in the implementation of Liberal Studies. Speculating on the EDB's motive for launching the reform of Liberal Studies and opposing the continuous development of the curriculum of the subject not only disregards the learning interests of students, but also ignores the professional considerations behind the bureau's optimisation of the subject.
The development and revision of the curriculum follow the established mechanism and procedures. The Government announced the main direction of the reform of Liberal Studies at the end of November 2020. The CDC and the HKEAA immediately set up the "CDC-HKEAA Committee on the Renamed Subject", which is responsible for curriculum design (including the selection of different topics with weightings), assessment and implementation strategies. The committee members were either education professionals or representative figures from various sectors of society. With the interests of students as their prime concern, they set about revising the curriculum, following the prescribed procedures, drawing reference from the recommendations of the report of the Task Force, and adopting the opinions of professionals, in keeping with the professional-led principle.
The reform and optimisation of Liberal Studies is reasonable. It has addressed the expectations of different stakeholders and received wide public support. From the professional perspective of education, the effectiveness of a curriculum has to be evaluated after it has been implemented for a certain period. Targeted revisions are a necessary measure for continuous improvement of the curriculum. Misrepresenting such curriculum improvement as a means to "kill the subject" reflects an indifference to the learning needs of students and a disregard of the mission and determination of the EDB to provide quality education.
If there were an intention to "kill" Liberal Studies, it would be more straightforward to abolish the subject. The purpose of revising the Liberal Studies curriculum and renaming the subject is to rectify the problem of deviations in teaching and put the subject back on the right track, thereby facilitating its stable and long-term development. As the subject remains a senior secondary core subject, it is clear that the claim of "killing Liberal Studies" is not valid.
The Task Force worked for nearly three years and consulted stakeholders and the public extensively, receiving 112,000 written submissions. The EDB accepted the report in December 2020 and accepted most of the recommendations of the Task Force on Liberal Studies. For the items without consensus in society, the EDB set specific directions and let the CDC and the HKEAA follow up on the details of curriculum and assessment and draw up the curriculum framework now proposed, which is in keeping with the professional-led principle.
All four core subjects will have to be optimised altogether if enough space is to be created to cater for the diverse learning needs of students, including enabling students to take an additional elective subject from one of the Key Learning Areas or "Applied Learning", learn the subjects in greater depth, take the extended part (M1/M2) of Mathematics, participate more actively in "Other Learning Experiences"/life-wide learning activities, and develop areas of interests to cater for their different interests, abilities and aspirations. Positive feedback has been received from the public, with expressions of hope that the changes could be implemented as early as possible for the benefit of students. The EDB is now conducting a questionnaire survey on a school basis to find out how best to assist schools to implement the proposals as soon as possible.
February 9, 2021 (Tuesday)