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Optimising the Four Senior Secondary Core Subjects

     On April 1 this year, the Education Bureau (EDB) announced measures to optimise the four senior secondary (SS) core subjects (i.e. Chinese Language, English Language, Mathematics, and Citizenship and Social Development in lieu of Liberal Studies). The optimising measures will be implemented from Secondary Four in the coming school year to benefit students as early as possible. The EDB is grateful for the positive responses and support from the school sector allowing the optimising proposals to take effect. However, it has come to the EDB's attention that some members of the public may not thoroughly understand the optimising measures, and thus further explanation and clarification are provided below to set the record straight.
 
Can the four SS core subjects take up more than half of the total lesson time?
 
     At present, on top of the recommended lesson time, additional lesson time has been allocated to the core subjects in many schools. In some cases, the core subjects take up even more than 60% of the total lesson time, prompting schools to compress the time for Other Learning Experiences (OLE), arrange extra supplementary lessons, or teach lessons of particular subjects after school. Students are thus deprived of the space to engage in more diversified learning experiences, which is far from desirable. Upon the implementation of the optimising measures, there will be a marked reduction in the lesson time for Citizenship and Social Development and its curriculum content will be about half of that of Liberal Studies. It should therefore be feasible to adjust the time allocation for the four core subjects to approximately 50% of the total lesson time.
 
     The essence of the optimising measures lies in the flexibility and space given to schools to cater for learner diversity. Even for students of the same year level, the lesson time for language subjects and Mathematics should not be rigidly set to be the same. Thus, while the EDB still receives enquiries like "Would it be considered 'non-compliant' upon the implementation of the optimising measures if the four core subjects take up 51% of the total lesson time?", the answer is evident. The onus is on schools to plan the SS curriculum in a holistic manner. In catering for the needs and aptitudes of students as well as creating space to enrich their learning experiences, school leaders should make sound judgement about how lesson time should be allocated, what subject choices should be offered and how OLE should be arranged. This is where professionalism in education comes into play. There is no simple, across-the-board indicator which applies to all schools.
 
Why are schools not recommended to re-allocate the lesson time released under the optimising measures to teach core subjects?
 
     Schools should carefully consider students' individual learning needs. Re-allocating the released lesson time to core subjects across-the-board would deviate from the rationale of the optimising measures and may not be the most effective arrangement. Schools should rethink whether learning is confined to regular lessons and how to motivate student learning. If students need additional language support, schools can adopt diversified differentiated strategies (including Language across the Curriculum (LaC) / Reading across the Curriculum (RaC), customised short-term programmes, enrichment/remedial programmes, language learning-related co-curricular activities, etc.) and consider how to enrich whole-school language learning atmosphere.
 
     The EDB earnestly hopes that schools would put their students' interests at the forefront and understand their learning characteristics and needs. It is also hoped that schools would make use of this opportunity to holistically review and plan the curriculum, utilise the space released properly, and provide more diversified learning experiences so as to cater for the diverse interests, abilities and aspirations of students and foster their whole-person development and diverse talents.
 
Will students' language learning opportunity be reduced if the lesson time of the core subjects is released?
 
     The Task Force on Review of School Curriculum submitted its review report to the EDB in September 2020. The EDB was particularly recommended to delineate the notion of "learning time" vis-à-vis "lesson time" to provide more flexibility for schools in holistically planning the whole-school curriculum as well as curriculum-related activities. In addition to regular class periods, "learning time" also refers to the time outside class at school (such as recesses, lunch breaks, after-school time, open days) and the time spent outside school (such as weekends and long holidays). Making good use of the time outside class is not new to schools. Due to the prolonged suspension of face-to-face classes during the outbreak of COVID-19, we have clearly recognised the difference between "learning time" and "lesson time" from how students adopted various modes of learning at home. Schools should make use of the optimisation of the four SS core subjects as an opportunity to strengthen the application of the concept of "learning time" in planning and arranging curriculum-related learning activities for students. Take English learning as an example. Schools are suggested to enhance students' opportunities of learning and using English outside the classroom through diversified learning activities, including RaC and LaC, English-related co-curricular programmes and life-wide learning activities, so as to widen students' opportunities of learning and using English both inside and outside the classroom, thereby enhancing their overall English proficiency.
 
Is it appropriate to arrange the Extended Part of Mathematics after school?
 
     Since the implementation of the SS curriculum of the New Academic Structure in 2009, the Mathematics curriculum has been composed of a Compulsory Part and an Extended part (i.e. Module 1 "Calculus and Statistics" and Module 2 "Algebra and Calculus"). Both parts are meant to be scheduled within the regular school timetable.
 
     At the initial stage of implementing the SS curriculum, some schools had yet to fully master how the school curriculum could be properly arranged. So they arranged the Extended Part to be taught after school. However, over the past decade, many universities have regarded the Extended Part of Mathematics as equivalent to an elective subject and even increased its weighting in the admission score calculation. If schools continue to arrange the lessons of the Extended Part outside the regular school timetable, the prolonged lesson time will increase the burden of teachers and students and affect the learning and teaching efficacy. Students' participation in co-curricular activities and OLE will also be hampered. This will not only hinder the whole-person development of students but will also discourage those who have a keen interest in Mathematics from taking the Extended Part, which defeats the original purpose of catering for students' different interests and aspirations.
 
At present, only the outline of Citizenship and Social Development is provided and there is a lack of concrete details of the subject. What assistance will be offered by the EDB in this regard?
 
     Citizenship and Social Development is not a brand new subject as its curriculum aims and objectives were formulated with reference to those of the existing Liberal Studies curriculum, the content of which were re-arranged and streamlined. The EDB and the Hong Kong Examinations and Assessment Authority are now developing the Curriculum and Assessment Guide for teachers' reference and will organise a new series of teachers’ professional development programmes in different modes, such as seminars, workshops and experience-sharing sessions, to enable teachers to accurately grasp the rationale, aims, and learning, teaching and assessment requirements. The EDB has undertaken to provide teaching resources for teachers' use. In September 2021, teachers will start with the topic "Hong Kong under 'One Country, Two Systems'". There are ample relevant resources, be they learning and teaching resources developed by the EDB or reference materials developed by official organisations, available for use. We are confident that teachers can make appropriate arrangements and manage well.
 
     A designated webpage"Optimising the Four Senior Secondary Core Subjects" (www.edb.gov.hk/en/curriculum-development/renewal/opt_core_subj.html) has been newly added to the EDB website. The webpage contains relevant information including examples of curriculum planning at the school level, FAQ, etc. for schools' reference.
 
May 5, 2021 (Wednesday)