Some candidates of Hong Kong’s key university entrance examination have said they had to tread lightly in the Liberal Studies test on Monday, after a compulsory question on press freedom put them in a tough spot.

Candidates of the Diploma of Secondary Education (DSE) were asked to describe public opinion on press freedom in the city, as well as identify scenarios in which a dilemma may arise between freedom of press and social responsibility. They had to base their answers on sources provided in the paper and their own knowledge.

Photo: Tom Grundy/HKFP.

The question on press freedom was seen as “political” by some candidates, who said they did not expect to encounter it in the test, according to RTHK.

Some students told local media that they were hesitant about citing the anti-extradition movement, which erupted last June, as an example when answering the question. Most of them ended up mentioning the large-scale protests, but they avoided sensitive wording to maintain objectivity, as they were worried about the political standpoint of those grading the papers.

“It was difficult to cite examples… it is a bit awkward,” a female student told Now TV.

Another student surnamed Poon told Apple Daily: “[I] didn’t dare cite controversial issues, [it] might make the marker a bit biased, which is not very good.”

Photo: Screenshot of Liberal Studies Paper 1.

But some students did not think their grades would be affected by any political standpoint, saying that the intention of the subject was to train students in independent thinking. If candidates were expected to give a model answer, it would contradict the nature of Liberal Studies, a student said.

“If it is really like that, the whole educational system is rather ridiculous,” a student who gave his name as Chan told Apple Daily.

The issue of press freedom was one of the three compulsory questions in Paper One of the subject, with more than 47,000 school and private candidates sitting in the examination, according to the Hong Kong Examinations and Assessment Authority.

A journalist caught in tear gas smoke in a protest. Photo: May James/HKFP.

The other topics were on public health risks posed by teenagers’ use of the Internet and whether international migration could solve a shortage of labour in developed regions.

The DSE written tests commenced last Friday, after being postponed during the coronavirus outbreak, which has infected 1,037 people locally as of Monday afternoon. Infection control measures such as the wearing of face masks, body temperate checks and special seating arrangements were implemented at examination centres to minimise the risk of infection.

2020 World Press Freedom Index. Photo: Reporters Without Borders.

Hong Kong plunged seven places in the 2020 World Press Freedom Index “because of its treatment of journalists during pro-democracy demonstrations,” watchdog Reporters Without Borders said last week.

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Kelly Ho has an interest in local politics, education and sports. She formerly worked at South China Morning Post Young Post, where she specialised in reporting on issues related to Hong Kong youth. She has a bachelor's degree in Journalism from the University of Hong Kong, with a second major in Politics and Public Administration.