Our Views on “Optimising the Four Senior Secondary Core Subjects” (Part 1)
Michael Wong Wai Yu, Michael, Honorary Executive Secretary, HKAHSS
11 March 2021
Recently, the Education Bureau (EDB) issued a School Questionnaire Survey to all secondary schools in Hong Kong on “Optimising the Four Senior Secondary Core Subjects to Create Space for Students and Cater for Learner Diversity”. In that survey, the EDB further explains the proposed curriculum changes in the four senior secondary core subjects: Chinese Language, English Language, Mathematics and Liberal Studies (Renamed Subject in lieu of Liberal Studies). In regard to the proposed measures in optimising the four senior secondary core subjects, the Executive Committee of The Hong Kong Association of the Heads of Secondary Schools (HKAHSS) has the following views:
Procedures in the Curriculum Revision
- Is the curriculum review supported by any research data?
Curriculum Revision and Reform are something natural. There are many changes in the world, and it is important for education to meet the changes and advance with time. The HKAHSS has all along appealed to the EDB to evaluate the outcomes of the actual implementation as well as review the breadth and depth of the Senior Secondary Curriculum, and conduct scientific research based on the objectives, which go along with the vision of the Education Reform 2000 (Note 1). However, since the release of “Report on the New Academic Structure Medium-term Review and Beyond” in 2015, the EDB has not conducted any other territory-wide study, consultation or evaluation. It is only until 2017 that the Task Force on Review of School Curriculum (the Task Force) was set up, which came up with six recommendations for public consultation. However, these recommendations were made after meetings with different stakeholders only and they are not based on any academic research or data.
- Does the curriculum revision meet the standing operating procedures?
There were standing operating procedures for curriculum reforms in the past. They would begin with the Subject Committees of the Curriculum Development Council (CDC) of the EDB. After thorough discussions in those committees, curriculum papers would be drafted for consultation in the education sector. If there are many different views, further revisions would be made before their announcement and implementation. The revision this time covers the curricula and assessments of the four core subjects, but it skips all the usual standing operating procedures. Saying that this curriculum revision follows the usual standing operating procedures is very unconvincing. Similarly, it is questionable to say that this curriculum revision is “professionally-led”. If there is professional leadership, who is the one who leads “professionally”? All along, the curriculum development in Hong Kong has its good convention and effective standing operating procedures, which can take far and wide the views of stakeholders. Though the past revisions might not be agreed by all, they usually displayed the greatest consensus amongst different parties in the education sector.
- Has the curriculum revision adequately taken the front-line teachers’ views into consideration?
This curriculum revision is based on the recommendations of the Task Force. Though the Task Force had met the Chairpersons or core members of different subject organisations and the education practitioners of different areas, members of the Task Force are mainly university professors and secondary school principals. There is no front-line teacher as representative in the Task Force. In the consultation process, how many front-line education practitioners can give their views or participate in the discussions? Among the “recommendations” for optimizing the Four Senior Secondary Core Subjects, how many of them have taken the front-line teachers’ views into consideration? How many of them are the will of the government officials?
- Does the “School Questionnaire Survey on Optimizing the Four Senior Secondary Core Subjects” really aim to collect views of the front-line teachers?
The design of this School Questionnaire Survey only asks schools on how to implement the proposed curriculum revision, the benefits that this revision brings to schools and the support measures which schools need. It does not ask schools whether they agreed to the proposed revision. If schools have different opinions, they can only express them in the part for “Others”. How will the EDB handle those opinions written in texts? Will the EDB group those “voices” just as “varied opinions”? Will the EDB withdraw the proposed revisions if many front-line teachers have reservation on the revisions after the consultation?
The Revision of the Core Subjects
During this pressing consultation period, the HKAHSS had consulted some front-line teachers for their opinions regarding the proposed revision of the core subjects.
- The proposed revision is basically resuming the mode of the “Hong Kong Certificate of Education Examination” (HKCEE). This move completely ignores the rationale of the current skills-based curriculum and puts the emphasis on the teaching of set texts. Sadly, it will bring us back to rote learning and drilling; and neglects the elements of application, communication and conveying messages in learning which are the emphasis of the current curriculum of Chinese Language.
- There are elements of reading, writing, listening and speaking in the current curriculum. Chinese Language, on the one hand, is a criterion for university admission and selection of students who have the required language standard to continue their studies. On the other hand, it helps to nurture talents who are good at communication to meet the needs of Hong Kong as a business centre. However, this revision puts the emphasis on reading and writing only, which may not match with the development of Hong Kong and the needs of talents required by society in the future.
- The current Chinese curriculum would be more interesting for students as there are many different learning and teaching activities in lessons around the 4 core elements: reading, writing, listening and speaking. If the emphasis is only on reading and writing, lessons may become boring.
- Oral communication reflects and trains students’ ability to respond and their attitude in communication which cannot be trained by written assessments. Speaking assessments can also cater for the diversities of students’ performance and abilities. The cancellation of Paper 4 cannot cater for students of different abilities and background. From the assessment point of view, this is unfair and not holistic.
- The consultation documents indicate that there can be a reduction of lesson time by 50 hours. However, the elective part has already been integrated into the daily teaching for Chinese Language. Deleting the elective part will not be able to release more lesson time. Besides, though Paper 3 and Paper 4 will be cancelled, the newly added assessments for practical writing and book reports take time to follow up. If schools follow the EDB guidelines to reduce the lesson time, can the syllabus be completed within the specified time frame? Will this affect the nurturing of students’ language ability?
- There are not many changes for English Language.Teachers generally welcome the streamlining of the School-based Assessment (SBA) and the integration of the teaching of the elective part into the compulsory part.
- As there are not many changes for English Language, front-line teachers are concerned whether students’ English ability and examination performance will be affected if schools follow the EDB guidelines to reduce the lesson time by 50 hours.
- Regarding the offering of Applied Learning (Vocational English), the promotion of the Academic Use of English through RaC and LaC and the adoption of assessing speaking by computer, more information is needed for fruitful comments as not much information is provided in the consultation documents.
- The design for assessments for the Compulsory Part and the Extended Part of Senior Secondary Mathematics remains unchanged.This can avoid the issues of the mis-place of learning and teaching resources, paradigm shift in learning and teaching, and the adaptability and training for teachers.
- The proposal suggests schools making use of the demarcation between Foundation Topics and Non-Foundation Topics of the Compulsory Part and arranging students to take them according to their different abilities, interests and aspirations. It is believed that schools can offer courses of different topics and levels of difficulties for students to choose from based on their abilities, interests and aspirations.
- As there is no change in the curriculum and assessment, it is difficult for schools to reduce the lesson time by 50 hours in their curriculum plans and actual implementation. If there is a reduction of 1/5 of the lesson time to complete the original syllabus, teachers are very worried about students’ learning effectiveness. This will also worsen the development of Mathematics education.
- The curriculum revision for Junior Secondary Mathematics just started for Secondary One in September 2020 and the revision is expected to be progressively carried on until September 2023 when students enter the senior secondary level. If the proposed curriculum revision for the 4 core subjects is to be implemented in September 2021, schools need to handle the curriculum revisions for Junior and Senior Secondary Mathematics simultaneously. In addition, students need to face different changes in these few years, which can be confusing.
- Learning for Life, Learning through Life – Reform Proposals for the Education System in Hong Kong. Education Commission, September 2000.
(To be continued in Part 2)
- 對於修訂文件內提出的應用學習(職業英語)、透過閱讀及跨學科應用英語(Academic use of English through RaC and LaC)及以電腦輔助的說話評估新模式等，由於解說不多，需要更多資料方能作出評論。
- 從學校層面的課程規劃和實際運作上，在課程和考評均沒有任何變更情況下，學校難以騰出50 小時課時來完成分量不變的課程。若要壓縮1/5 課時來完成原有的課程，老師十分擔心學生的學習成效，對數學教育發展更見不利。