Our Views on “Optimising the Four Senior Secondary Core Subjects” (Part 2) 「優化高中四個核心科目」之我見(下篇)
Michael Wong Wai Yu, Honorary Executive Secretary, HKAHSS
16 March 2021
Part 1 on the same topic was released on 11 March 2021 and it can be accessed at:
The Revision of the Core Subjects
Liberal Studies (Renamed Subject in lieu of Liberal Studies)
In the recently proposed optimization of the core subjects, “Renamed Subject in lieu of Liberal Studies” (Renamed Subject) has the most changes when compared with the others. The proposed “optimized” changes in terms of curriculum content, the way learning and teaching is conducted and assessment are so significant that it is virtually a new subject. Yet, schools are requested to implement these changes in Secondary 4 in September 2021.
- Are the proposed arrangements in curriculum and assessment of the Renamed Subject in line with the curriculum rationale and aims?
The EDB circular memorandum stated the curriculum of the Renamed Subject adheres to the rationale of the existing one. It includes “helping senior secondary students understand the situations of Hong Kong, the nation and the contemporary world”, “through the learning process, students can connect the knowledge learnt in various subjects at the junior and senior secondary levels, broaden their knowledge base”, enables them to “become informed and responsible citizens of society, the nation and the world”, “deepen understanding and sense of identity of individuals with Chinese nationality and as Chinese citizens, and at the same time appreciate, respect and embrace diversity in cultures and views”, and “become critical, rational, reflective and independent thinkers.” (Note 2)
Even though the curriculum rationale listed in the document does not seem to be very different from the original Liberal Studies, the actual curriculum content is heavily adjusted as shown in the relevant document and briefing sessions. The teaching time was heavily slashed; 30% of the assessment would be based on multiple choice and short questions and teaching and learning of the subject would no longer focus on probing questions and discussions. It is worth reflecting on whether the Renamed Subject can really adhere to the rationale of the existing curriculum.
Can the Renamed Subject fulfil the aims set in the education reform in 2000?
Cutting the syllabus, changing the assessment format and cancelling the Independent Enquiry Study (IES) might help save students’ time and efforts. However, would the curriculum aims really not be affected?
IES, which takes up 1/3 learning time (90 hours) in Liberal Studies, is the main feature in its curriculum design. It was hoped that IES would contribute to the curriculum aims by “providing an opportunity for students to learn to become self-directed learners”, “helping students develop higher-order thinking skills and communication skills”, and enabling students to “become motivated and responsible learners” (Note 3). Once IES is taken away, the learning aims of these 90 hours would be void.
Can the learning aims of IES be replaced by the mainland study (10 hours) suggested in the consultation document? Why should the study trips be limited to mainland only? How would it really work when all secondary schools in Hong Kong implement the programme for their senior students in the same period?
Liberal Studies played a very important role in the overall aims when the education reform was first implemented in the 21st century. If the aims of the education reforms are still valid now, how would the Renamed Subject continue to achieve them?
- Are there any academic research data that indicates the “problems” of Liberal Studies?
EDB has publicly commented that “The current Liberal Studies curriculum is open and flexible and can easily be misinterpreted by a minority of people, resulting in deviations in its implementation. Criticisms of it include: too much emphasis on discussion of current affairs; students’ lack of systematic knowledge; … such discussions being polarised and too focused on political issues; … a readiness to criticise and object indiscriminately at the expense of the principle of adopting facts as the basis of careful thinking and judgement. After the curriculum has been implemented for more than a decade, the problems about its content, teaching strategies and even assessment are getting worse. There is an urgent need to reform the subject.” (Note 4) Such claims were made by EDB without the backup of rigorous academic research. Are such accusations fair to all teachers of Liberal Studies or colleagues who work on assessments? Can such criticisms reflect “professional leadership”? Or is it a sign of shedding responsibilities?
EDB has been monitoring the development of Liberal Studies through “friendly visits”, “Focus Inspection”, and “External School Review” in the past years. In the relevant reports and documents, there have not been any strong criticisms against the curriculum design of Liberal Studies or the implementation of learning and teaching. On the contrary, exemplars of good practices have been promoted frequently. HKAHSS feels deeply anxious at the unfounded accusations and thinks it is unfair to all Liberal Studies teachers in Hong Kong.
- Is the implementation too hasty?
In the Renamed Subject, one of the LS original modules, “Personal Development and Interpersonal Relationships” is deleted. The other three modules including “Globalization”, “Public Health” and “Energy Technology and the Environment” have been redesigned. “Technology Development and Information Literacy” compressed into a new module called “Interconnectedness and Interdependence of the Contemporary World”. The original module of “Hong Kong Today” is changed to “Hong Kong under ‘One Country, Two Systems’”, “Modern China” becomes “Our Country since Reform and Opening-up”. Curriculum-wise, one can hardly say the changes are minor.
Our association is very worried that such major and hasty changes would lead to several problems, including adaptations in changes to learning and teaching, lack of teaching resources, and the difficulty in the interface to equivalent courses of overseas secondary education. Even though teachers’ training can be conducted concurrently with the implementation of the new curriculum, one should still pay attention to the re-training of teachers and their adjustment or else the overall learning quality of the Renamed Subject in lieu of Liberal Studies would be affected.
For our views on the proposed changes in Liberal Studies, please refer to the column on “Here and Now – Food for Thought on Education” published on HKAHSS’s webpage I [The Chief Executive’s 2020 Policy Address: Soliloquy and Thoughts Aloud (Part 1)].
- The curriculum of the four core subjects is the “core” of the entire senior secondary school education with far-reaching impacts on students. We cannot understand why such major changes are to be implemented hastily in the coming September without thorough consultation.
- Is there enough time for all schools in Hong Kong to plan holistically in order to create space for students and cater for learner diversity? How can 250 hours be released (notional) from the learning time of four cores as the curriculum and assessment of Mathematics remains unchanged and there will not be much change in English Language?
- If the senior secondary school curriculum is to create space for students and cater for learner diversity, there must be better planning and enough time for all stakeholders to communicate before soliciting their full support. A step-by-step approach to reform is the hard and fast rule for the curriculum reform to be implemented smoothly to benefit students.
- Issues such as manpower allocation, revision in subject combination and selection of textbooks are much easier said than done, especially when schools have to adhere to various guidelines stipulated by the EDB.
- Changes in the four core subjects affect the arrangement of the following: learning time arrangement, combination of elective subjects, allocation of teaching duties and the curriculum plan of junior secondary education. These changes surely affect the subject choices of Secondary 3 students and their parents. Schools need to let them understand the arrangements of Secondary 4 electives as different choices might affect students’ future academic and career plans. Currently schools are still not clear about the final changes or the university admission criteria. How can we help students make the appropriate choices with the right information promptly? As the choice of their elective subjects might affect students’ life planning, how can we be accountable to our students and parents? EDB should deliberate on these questions carefully.
EDUCATION BUREAU CIRCULAR MEMORANDUM NO. 20/2021: Optimising the Four Senior Secondary Core Subjects to Create Space for Students and Cater for Learner Diversity: School Questionnaire Survey and School Briefing Sessions
Liberal Studies Curriculum and Assessment Guide (Secondary 4-6) (Updated in 2015
EDB: Reform of Liberal Studies (Part 1)
有關香港中學校長會對通識科修訂的意見，可參考香港中學校長會網頁專欄「我思我在– 教育分享園地：2020年施政報告– 喃喃自語？自問自答？上篇」。
教育局通函第 20/2021 號：優化高中四個核心科目——為學生創造空間和照顧學 生多樣性：學校問卷調查及學校簡介會。
教育局：《通識教育科改革正面睇 (上篇) 》，2021年。