Education Secretary Kevin Yeung said on Friday that while the government will not force students to take a field trip to the mainland as part of the revamped liberal studies curriculum, it will be up to individual schools to decide whether participation in the tour will count towards their grades at school.
The comment comes a day after Yeung announced sweeping changes to the secondary school subject, including axing half of the original curriculum, changing the current seven-grade scoring system to a simple pass and fail system, and requiring students to take a trip to the mainland.
There will also be more emphasis on the country's development, the constitution, the Basic Law and the rule of law in the revamped curriculum, and all the teaching materials will have to be vetted by the government. The subject will also be renamed.
On an RTHK radio programme, a caller, who said she's a parent, asked Yeung whether students would be forced to take a trip to the mainland.
“If you force Hong Kong residents, including children, to take a field trip to the mainland… would that breach the Basic Law, which said Hong Kong residents enjoy freedom to enter or leave the SAR, meaning that they can decide on their own where they would like to go?” she asked.
In reply, Yeung said the government "cannot force anyone to leave the SAR unless there is a legal basis", adding that the trip won’t count towards a student’s final grade in their DSE exam.
However, he said it would be up to individual schools to decide whether the trip will count towards students' grades at schools.
The education chief also questioned whether it would be good for children’s development to "resist" the mainland as Hong Kong and the rest of the Greater Bay Area forge closer ties.
Speaking to reporters afterwards, Yeung said details on how these study tours should be conducted will be finalised later.
“[For] the details, I have to leave it to the Curriculum Development Committee to decide on the requirements and the arrangements. But in our plan, the part on the study tour to the mainland will not form part of the DSE exams. So it will not be reflected in the results,” he said.
The official also played down criticism that the Education Bureau did not adopt recommendations made by the Task Force on Review of School Curriculum in September, after the panel carried out an almost three-year review on the overall curriculum for primary and secondary schools, including the liberal studies subject.
While the task force had proposed that the government trim the content of the subject, it also suggested retaining the existing seven-grade scoring system.
But Yeung denied putting politics above professionalism, saying the changes proposed by the bureau are largely in line with the task force’s recommendations.
He added that changing the assessment mechanism to pass or fail can help relieve students’ pressure and allow them to reap more benefits from studying the subject.
“We think that it will further ease the students’ pressure when facing the examination if we are using the pass or fail system. For this particular subject, if they do not have the very strong pressure from the examination, it may further provide them with the opportunities… to further develop their analytical skills, and also the skills of assessing problems, problem-solving skills, all these types of things, which may be more important than an exam.”