The Education Bureau on Friday ordered the examination authority to pull a question on Japan’s occupation of China in the early 20th century, which had sparked a storm of controversy and prompted a sharp rebuke from Beijing.
Education minister Kevin Yeung told a press conference that the open-ended question in a recent history exam for senior secondary students – on whether Japan did more good than harm to China during the period between 1900 and 1945 – was one-sided, leading and biased.
He repeated an earlier statement from his bureau that students would have been led to give a biased answer which would have “seriously hurt the feelings and dignity of the Chinese people who suffered great pain during the Japanese invasion of China.”
The matter has not only aroused great public concern, Yeung said, but it has led to public questions over the fairness of the Examinations and Assessment Authority (HKEAA).
This prompt decision to completely invalidate the question instead of waiting for a regular review, the minister said, was partly taken to help rehabilitate the public image of the examinations body.
Yeung told reporters that officials from his bureau would head down to the HKEAA on Monday “to investigate the question setting, vetting, and approval mechanism under the Diploma of Secondary Education (DSE), and whether the mechanism has been strictly complied with during the preparation of the examination paper of the history examination.”
He said the authority will be asked to “make appropriate adjustments” after scrapping the controversial question, “to ensure the credibility and effectiveness of the history examination.”
Pressed at a news conference on why the government is adamant that the question is one-sided even though students are free to come up with their own answers, Yeung said the way the question was asked simply leaves no room for any discussion.
“There is only harm, nothing good”, he said.
“The question itself is not appropriately set”, Yeung added, “So it’s difficult to assess the students’ performance based on this type of question, and also there will be doubt on whether the markers will be biased, given all the discussions in the community these days.”
He added that students themselves would have worries over whether their work could be fairly assessed.
The minister further said supporting materials given to the students focused on the aid that was given to China by Japan, but only included data from 1905 to 1912, when the question asked them to assess the period all the way up to the end of the Second World War.
Yeung dismissed suggestions that the government was overstepping its bounds by intervening to pull the controversial question, saying his bureau has the responsibility to ensure the quality of the DSE examinations, and the exam papers.
The decision came after the Foreign Ministry waded into the controversy.
On the Facebook page of its Hong Kong office, the ministry wrote "Hong Kong's education sector must not become a chicken coop without a roof".
While the nationalist Global Times tabloid said "Hong Kong's (university exam) question leads students to be traitors".
Millions of people died in China during Japan’s brutal occupation of the country in the early 20th century.