The Secondary School Curriculum Guide – Commentary Series (1)

MingPao, 7 July 2017

Dr. Stanley Ho


The Secondary School Curriculum GuideCommentary Series (1) 中文原文

What kind of Curriculum do Hong Kong students need to prepare for their future?

– Dr Stanley Ho Sai-Mun, Vice Chairman and Convener of the Task Group on “Curriculum Review and Development”, Hong Kong Association of Heads of Secondary Schools 

Executive summary

The Curriculum Development Council has recently published the Secondary School Curriculum Guide (English Draft) (“The Guide”) in the Education Bureau’s website. It is the first complete guide on junior and senior secondary curriculum since the launch of the Education Reform in 2000 and the implementation of the New Academic Structure of Senior Secondary Education in 2009 (“NSS”).  The Hong Kong Association of Heads of Secondary Schools attempts to comment on The Guide in the following 4 aspects.

In doing so, the questions we seek to ask are –  

  • Is the proposed curriculum keeping abreast of today’s changing age in preparing our students for the future?
  • What impact will The Guide have on learners (students) and front-line trustthelordpractitioners (school principals and teachers) of the curriculum?
  1. Direction and Positioning

Direction is essential to any curriculum development. The problem of The Guide is not lacking direction, but rather, too many, and each of the directions given seems to be equally important. Key development areas (7 Learning Goals, 6 focal points, 4 Key Tasks, etc) are overlapping in concepts, and loose in their interconnectivity.

The Guide has kept most of the reform proposals set out in the Education Reform in 2000, fine-tuned a few, and finally added some recent “renewed emphases”. But the total number of development areas has significantly increased. As a result, the overall direction is blurred and the order of priorities distracted. The Guide has also failed to elaborate the nature of the development. Is the curriculum meant for extending or sustaining the ongoing development, and is the “updating” about quantity (adding or deleting) or quality (deepening the reform)?   

It is necessary to have a visionary and strategic framework for curriculum development to help our students see their future with many possibilities, and comprehend the relevancy and use of their learning. The Guide offers only fragmented responses to such concerns. For instance, how do we nurture students’ global citizenships, raise their national and civic awareness, and cultivate their interest in scientific pursuit and the spirit of humanity?   

  1. Solutions to problems

For effective execution in the frontline, the planning of a curriculum must take into consideration the challenges in actual circumstances. While the Guide has identified the various problems requiring attention (examination pressure, insufficient space for learning, etc), it provides no in-depth analysis of the causes nor specific measures to address them. The achievability of the expected goals is therefore in doubt.

A larger part of the chapter, The Way Forward, is devoted to justifying keeing “Learning to learn” as the future development direction. However, very little is said on the corresponding changes that the existing system needs to link up the various curriculum proposals in order to achieve “learning to learn”. For instance, how do we optimize the NSS and its supporting policies for a more systemic and effective way of catering for weak learners and students of diverse interest?

In OECD PISA Report 2015, certain trends of Hong Kong students are revealed – falling academic quality in science subjects, lower sense of learning effectiveness, less satisfied with life, and rising examination-related anxiety. Other local studies have also shown increasingly serious mental health problem among secondary school students. These are alarming signals of the problems requiring timely and fitting solutions.        

  1. Learning Contents

The prime purpose of a curriculum guide is to facilitate principals and teachers to formulate school-based plans of teaching contents, strategies and progress according to the background, ability and interest of students. Whether such purpose can be served depends largely on the design of the guide. The stricter the regulations are, the harder it is to allow rooms for flexible refinement to suit the actual needs of students. 

The Guide places too high importance on subject-based knowledge and concerns too little on aspects such as integrated learning across subjects, Generic Skills, attitude and value. This is the crust of the problem. Another risk is that it attempts to resolve social problems through education. Hard-selling style execution of certain curricula has been proven to fail. The promotion of mental health, national identity and the awareness of the rule of law could be more naturally done by experiential learning and emotion education tacitly placed in the curriculum for more lasting effect.    

  1. Learning Time

One of the major goals spelt out in the Education Reform in 2000 is to create more learning space for students and teachers. However, in face of the required lesson hours for each subject, the greatest difficulty encountered is, time. Subjects are forced to compete for lesson time, and this may even result in after-school tutorials. Although educators have presented our views to the authorities on the treatment of subject learning hours, The Guide has maintained its original view.

The Guide is too detailed in setting the rules and excessive in laying down the teaching contents. The attempt to maximize the use of time has made learning time insufficient on the contrary. The problem is even worse with senior forms. The school is simply unable to find any residue time to develop school-specific syllabus to cater for the diverse needs of students. The learning progress in general has become fragmented and disconnected; and “Learning to learn” is too easy to become “all for studying”.   

In sum, the major constraints of The Guide is that it speaks from the angle of the policymaker but not the learners or the front-line practitioners. It concerns more on unifying the requirements than realizing school-based curriculum and student learning. On the surface it has provided some options for schools. However, in essence it has evaded from addressing the fundamental problems to be first tackled by the policymakers. More teaching contents are added, leaving students with less learning space.     

Our pressing need is a long-term curriculum development plan that will point to a future for our students. We hope the finalized version of the 12-booklet Guide will show us a clear direction and feasible plan for development.      


明報 7-7-2017

香港中學校長會對《中學教育課程指引》的評論系列 (一) English version




  1. 方向定位 – 太多方向變成失去方向




  1. 問題對策 – 提出問題卻未提供對策


指引花了不少篇幅論述2001年以來重大環境改變以及國際教育趨勢,論證「學會學習」仍是課程發展的未來路向(the way forward)。然而,現行教育制度應如何進行相應調整或改革,連結各項課程建議,讓學生真正能學會學習,例如如何優化新高中學制及各種配套政策措施,才更有系统更有效照顧能力稍遜和多元興趣的學生,指引並未提出可以作為出路(the way out)的方案。       

無可否認,香港教育在過去一段時期,贏取了不少國際矚目的成就,這是學界共同努力得來不易的成果。最近,OECD公佈PISA 2015報告,揭示了香港學生科學素養整體呈下降趨勢,學習自我效能感及生活滿意度低落、考試焦慮則高於國際水平。另一方面,多項本地研究,發現中學生精神健康問题日趨嚴重。這些危險警號都與課程有關,我們必須及時對症下藥。       

  1. 教學內容 – 規限越緊導至規劃越難      



  1. 學習時間 – 時間盡用反而時間不足      


學習時間盡用反致學習時間不足,這是指引課程規定過細及教學內容過多的結果。學習時間不夠,何來空間讓學生擴濶經歷、反思學習、休息遊戲說笑、建立師生關係、提升身心社靈健康?越高年級學習空間越萎縮,學校越難找到賸餘時間發展照顧學生多樣性的校本特色課程。整體學習過程不斷被分割和碎片化,「學會學習」(learning to learn) 很容易淪為「只為讀書」(all for studying),難怪學生將學習視作苦差,甚至中途「跳船」退學。