Hong Kong’s Education Bureau has asked secondary schools to submit plans for taking students on mainland study tours as part of a new course which replaces liberal studies.

In a circular sent to schools on Thursday, the Education Bureau (EDB) said it would provide 21 trip itineraries – including trips of up to five days to parts of Guangdong, Fujian and Hunan provinces – for students from Form Four to Six.

Student education coronavirus Covid-19 virus
File photo: Hong Kong students. Photo: GovHK.

The trips are part of the new Citizenship and Social Development (CS) subject for senior secondary students. Authorities announced in 2020 that it would replace Liberal Studies, with more emphasis on mainland China and less on current affairs.

Schools have been given till the end of July to propose times for the tours and select their preferred itineraries for the next two academic years.

“[T]he EDB has to liaise with the Mainland provincial and municipal
parties for the detailed arrangements in advance so that CS Mainland study tours can be started as soon as possible upon the easing of the epidemic situation and resumption of quarantine-free travel,” the circular reads.

Shenzhen Futian CBD
A business district in Shenzhen. File photo: QuantFoto, via Flickr.

Liberal Studies was formerly one of the four core subjects in the senior secondary curriculum and was aimed at developing critical thinking and enhancing social awareness. Pro-Beijing politicians, however, blamed it for fuelling the anti-extradition protests in 2019.

Schools began offering Citizenship and Social Development to Form Four students this academic year.

Cultural appreciation and national identity

According to the EDB’s circular, the purpose of the tours is to enable students to gain a “first-hand understanding” of China, and to develop an appreciation of Chinese culture and “their sense of national identity.”

The 21 itineraries include trips – all fully funded by the Hong Kong government – ranging from two to five days.

A five-day itinerary to Guizhou, in the southwest of China, aims to educate students about the natural features of the province as well as the “life and customs of ethnic minorities.”

Education Bureau
Photo: NowTV screenshot.

Students will visit a school and university in the province, as well as Libo Ancient Town, home to ethnic groups such as the Miao and Bouyei people.

On a three-day trip to neighbouring Shenzhen and to Zhuhai, students will be taught about the development of the Greater Bay Area and explore the technological concepts of smart cities.

A survey by the Hong Kong Public Opinion Research Institute last year on the revamped liberal studies subject found that more than 60 percent of Hongkongers opposed the removal of some topics on livelihood and socio-political participation.

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Hillary Leung is a journalist at Hong Kong Free Press, where she reports on local politics and social issues, and assists with editing. Since joining in late 2021, she has covered the Covid-19 pandemic, political court cases including the 47 democrats national security trial, and challenges faced by minority communities.

Born and raised in Hong Kong, Hillary completed her undergraduate degree in journalism and sociology at the University of Hong Kong. She worked at TIME Magazine in 2019, where she wrote about Asia and overnight US news before turning her focus to the protests that began that summer. At Coconuts Hong Kong, she covered general news and wrote features, including about a Black Lives Matter march that drew controversy amid the local pro-democracy movement and two sisters who were born to a domestic worker and lived undocumented for 30 years in Hong Kong.