'Failed' liberal studies needs revamp: think tank - RTHK
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'Failed' liberal studies needs revamp: think tank

2020-09-07 HKT 13:54
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  • The Our Hong Kong Foundation says liberal studies should be changed to a non-core pass/fail subject for university admissions, have all its teaching materials vetted by the Education Bureau, and be more science-based. Photo: RTHK
    The Our Hong Kong Foundation says liberal studies should be changed to a non-core pass/fail subject for university admissions, have all its teaching materials vetted by the Education Bureau, and be more science-based. Photo: RTHK
Damon Pang reports
The Our Hong Kong Foundation think tank has called for a sweeping revamp of the liberal studies curriculum in local secondary schools – including having the government vet all teaching materials – saying the controversial subject has not achieved its objectives of cultivating high-level critical thinking skills and open minds among students.

The group is headed by former Chief Executive Tung Chee-hwa, who is among a host of pro-Beijing figures to have suggested that the subject may have encouraged students to participate in anti-government protests.

The foundation on Monday issued a report proposing to rebrand liberal studies as “integrated studies”; removing it as a core subject for university admittance; and changing the subject to pass/fail in the Diploma of Secondary Education examinations instead of the existing seven-point grading system.

‘Alternative’ modes of assessment such as multiple-choice questions or word-matching, it said, should be added “to maximise fairness and flexibility.”

Instead of a core subject, the foundation said a ‘pass’ should be adequate for university admittance, because “result-focused articulation… is at odds with an ‘assessment for learning’ ethos… [and] hinders higher-order thinking skills and self-directed learning.”

It said the Education Bureau should set out “transparent and practical vetting guidelines” which should cover both textbooks and supplementary materials, noting that some people have criticised the subject for using “biased" teaching materials.

Last month, it emerged that local publishers had made a number of changes to liberal studies textbooks after participating in a voluntary review, taking out references to the concept of separation of powers, and civil disobedience.

The report backed up its suggestions citing surveys that say a majority of teachers and students found the curriculum overly broad.

It also concluded that the subject’s reliance on exams for assessment were a “hindrance to thinking skills”, and expressed concern that unvetted materials from social media were often used as teaching materials, “severely affect the accuracy and objectivity of content circulated in class.”

The foundation also said the subject is skewed towards the humanities “at the expense of science” – citing a significant fall in enrollment rates for science courses, and a decline in students’ performance in such subjects.

It said students should have the option of choosing more science-based options “to strike a better balance.”