Supporters of a government proposal to revamp liberal studies said it's long overdue, while critics slammed the move, saying it would "kill the soul" of the school subject.
Education Secretary Kevin Yeung said on Thursday that the government planned to introduce sweeping changes to the liberal studies secondary school subject, which has been blamed by many pro-Beijing figures for last year's social unrest. The subject will get a new curriculum, grading system and even a different name, and there will be more emphasis on the country's development, the constitution, the Basic Law and the rule of law.
Outgoing education sector lawmaker Ip Kin-yuen described the government's decision to overhaul the subject as "abrupt" and made out of "political considerations".
"I think they are trying to cut down the emphasis on the study of current issues and also the ideas of critical thinking, independent thinking would not be emphasised so much," Ip said.
He also pointed out that it was a contradiction when the government said it wants to lighten the workload of students while requiring them to make a field trip to the mainland.
"This is the time when the students are in their examination years, so their schedule for studying is already very intense, so how can the students spend a long time in a field trip in the mainland?" Ip questioned. "And also the teachers will have to do a lot of things to prepare for the trip... why are they adding the extra things?"
He said while the proposal may encourage students to embrace the country, the curriculum should also focus on their own city and the world.
"I think studying about China is of course something very important, but it has to be a very proportionate one."
Issac Cheng, from the group Education Breakthrough, also denounced the revamp proposal.
"The overall changes are actually killing the soul of liberal studies," he said.
"And most important thing is actually they're not pretending to use the name of the liberal studies, they would literally delete the whole name."
Cheng warned that the changes would mean that critical thinking will no longer be part of secondary education.
But the lawmaker heading the Legco's education panel, Priscilla Leung of the Business and Professionals Alliance, said secondary school students are too young to be taught critical-thinking skills.
"I think this kind of goal should be left at the university level when the students are equipped with very correct knowledge, not out of bias, that kind of twisted information," she told RTHK's Joanne Wong.
"The students are not adults yet, they should have the correct value of life, not to be cultivated like the attitude of hating the government or joining unlawful activities and they also disrespect the rule of law," Leung asserted.
She also blamed the lack of a structured curriculum and "teachers with agenda" for issues associated with the subject.
"When the subject does not provide a lot of subject materials, has a lot of room for teachers to teach freely without structured syllabus or scope of examination... so if the students are unfortunate to have some teachers who have agenda in their mind and they might face the situation to be motivated to participate in those unlawful activities," Leung said.
'Liberal studies move political, kills its soul'
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