More than 60 percent of Hongkongers who took part in an online poll oppose government plans to delete some topics from the Liberal Studies subject which is taught in secondary schools. The topic is about to be renamed, according to the opinion survey organisers.

Some 62 per cent of the 4,982 people polled said they oppose the proposal to remove some topics on livelihood and socio-political participation from the subject, which will be renamed “Citizenship and Social Development” in the upcoming school year, according to the survey conducted by the Hong Kong Public Opinion Research Institute (PORI) from March 26-30.

PORI Liberal Studies
The Hong Kong Public Opinion Research Institute holds a press conference on April 1, 2021. Photo: HKPORI Facebook screenshot.

PORI said 54 per cent of the respondents – who were Hong Kong residents aged 12 or above – objected to the plan to reduce the curriculum content by half. The survey found 48 per cent of respondents oppose the introduction of “plenty of content on the sense of national identity.”

Launched in 2009, Liberal Studies is one of the four core subjects in the senior secondary curriculum. The Education Bureau announced last November it was revamping the subject by adding more content about China and reducing the focus on current affairs.

The overhaul came after pro-Beijing figures said the subject had encouraged students to take part in the 2019 anti-extradition bill protests. Chief Executive Carrie Lam has said her administration would not let the education system become a “doorless chicken coop,” without any regulation. 

The survey asked respondents whether they agree or disagree that there were problems with the subject from day one. Thirty-three per cent said they agreed and 45 per cent disagreed. Eighteen per cent said they were “half-half,” while four per cent were “don’t knows.”

Liberal studies book
Liberal Studies textbooks.

Cheung Yui-fai, an executive committee member of the Hong Kong Professional Teachers’ Union, said the survey showed “citizens have a discerning eye.” He said some topics in Liberal Studies were meant to help students understand the overall situation in Hong Kong society.

Cheng said people were upset when they saw topics that were not politically sensitive being removed from the curriculum. “[T]hey would think this is not a direction for developing education,” he said.

Education officials on Wednesday endorsed a new name for the subject along with other measures to “optimise” the four core secondary school subjects.

The subject formerly known as Liberal Studies will touch on three themes – Hong Kong, the nation and the contemporary world – as opposed to having six modules previously. Students will also see a new grading system for the subject – they will only be judged as “attained” or “not attained” in the Diploma of Secondary Education exam rather than the existing seven-level system.

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Ho Long Sze Kelly is a Hong Kong-based journalist covering politics, criminal justice, human rights, social welfare and education. As a Senior Reporter at Hong Kong Free Press, she has covered the aftermath of the 2019 extradition bill protests and the Covid-19 pandemic extensively, as well as documented the transformation of her home city under the Beijing-imposed national security law.

Kelly has a bachelor's degree in Journalism from the University of Hong Kong, with a second major in Politics and Public Administration. Prior to joining HKFP in 2020, she was on the frontlines covering the 2019 citywide unrest for South China Morning Post’s Young Post. She also covered sports and youth-related issues.