Education sector lawmaker Ip Kin-yuen has expressed concern after news emerged that the controversial liberal studies subject for secondary school students may be made into an elective.

A report citing information from unnamed sources by Sing Tao Daily said that the Education Bureau’s Task Force on Review of School Curriculum was considering whether to change the exam ranking system from the current one – which rates students on a scale from 1 to 5** – to a pass or fail system. It also said the task force was looking into turning liberal studies from a mandatory subject into an elective, and was considering whether a public exam will be required.

The subject, which started in 2009 for the New Senior Secondary Academic Structure, has been a subject of debate for years. Some educators, including Wong Yuk-shan, the head of the Open University, have accused the subject of radicalising students and called for it to be reviewed, turned into an elective, or scrapped. The curriculum aims to deepen students’ awareness of contemporary issues, develop their global outlook and strengthen analytical skills.

Liberal studies textbooks

Education sector lawmaker Ip Kin-yuen said he believed Sing Tao’s report was correct. He expressed concerns that the potential changes may be caused by political factors, as opposed to professional considerations from the sector.

He said the normal procedure for changing the curriculum was to consult the Curriculum Development Council, which consists of teachers, principals and scholars. But the council has not made any suggestions on liberal studies in the past year.

“Why should such changes be made? Is it because of pressure from outside? Is such pressure coming from politicians that actions have to be taken against liberal studies? We must give this matter a great amount of attention,” he said.

“The design of the New Senior Secondary Academic Structure took a lot of discussion and time. Any changes should only be made after careful and professional consideration,” he added.

Ip Kin-yuen
Ip Kin-yuen. File Photo:

He said the curriculum for the subject should be fixed for students, teachers and schools.

“If the government makes a drastic change, it will be a disaster,” he said. “We need to take into consideration all input from professionals.”

Secretary for Education Kevin Yeung said he has yet to receive a report from the task force, and added that there have not been any suggestions on changes.

“Our ultimate goal in the curriculum is to help students grow, perform better in the future, and engage in society,” he said. “As a responsible government, it is appropriate to constantly review different aspects of education.”

Changes welcomed

Lawmaker Priscilla Leung, the convener of a concern group on liberal studies, said the group would welcome the changes if the report turned out to be accurate.

Priscilla Leung
Priscilla Leung. Photo: LegCo.

She said she had received a petition from 1,000 parents and students complaining that the subject put pressure on students.

“We have been suggesting that, in order to ensure students can study the subject happily, it should not be a required subject for the Diploma of Secondary Education Examination,” she said. “Because it is a mandatory subject, it reduces students’ choices in other professional subjects.”

Kris Cheng is a Hong Kong journalist with an interest in local politics. His work has been featured in Washington Post, Public Radio International, Hong Kong Economic Times and others. He has a BSSc in Sociology from the Chinese University of Hong Kong. Kris is HKFP's Editorial Director.