Hong Kong’s Education Bureau said on Thursday it will introduce drastic changes to the curriculum of a liberal studies course taught in the city’s public high schools next year, including a new focus on the Chinese Communist Party (CCP)’s constitution and implementation of the rule of law.
Pupils will be required to complete a “study trip” to China as part of the revamped course.
Hong Kong’s pro-China leaders have blamed the liberal studies course for influencing the city’s ongoing pro-democracy movement, which began in the summer of 2019. The new course curriculum will emphasize China’s “development, the constitution, the Basic Law [Hong Kong’s de facto constitution] and the rule of law,” according to Radio Television Hong Kong (RTHK).
Hong Kong Education Secretary Kevin Yeung said at a press conference on Thursday that all of the course’s teaching materials will now be vetted by the Chinese communist regime. Yeung revealed that the course’s existing curriculum will be cut in half “to reduce the pressure on students.” The education board will scrap the course’s original seven-grade scoring system in favor of a simple pass or fail. The changes will be implemented from the start of the next academic year (2021).
“There is no major change in the new or what we call the revamped subject. It also will have discussions of national education in there … that’s always one of our objectives in all the subjects,” Yeung said.
The education secretary revealed that the course will be given a new name, citing an alleged “negative stigma” associated with the term “liberal studies” in Hong Kong, although he claimed that the city’s government has “no problem with the word ‘liberal.'”
“We observed that over the years, there are a lot of … usually not so good connotations with the name. As we are now going to refine the subject, we are now trying to make the subject have a new start. We think it is more appropriate to have a new name,” he explained.
Yeung said he has tasked the education board’s Curriculum Development Council with deciding the course’s new name.
The liberal studies course was introduced by Hong Kong’s first Chief Executive, Tung Chee-hwa, in 2009 as part of a broader program of education reform “to promote critical thinking” in secondary school students. Since the city’s pro-democracy movement began in June 2019 in response to increased Chinese encroachment on the city’s historic semi-autonomy, the course “has come under constant criticism from members of the pro-Beijing camp who claim it has fuelled anti-government sentiment among students,” according to RTHK.
Hong Kong legislative councilor Priscilla Leung cited the protest movement as a reason she and other members of the council do not support the liberal studies course.
“[In regard to] what happened last year … we think that subject as a compulsory subject has offered too much room and time for different kinds of teachers to teach the materials that are not suitable for high school students. Or many teachers have been found to have put their own agenda into the subject,” she told RTHK in a radio interview on Thursday.
When asked by RTHK whether she thinks that altering the liberal studies course will sacrifice students’ abilities to cultivate critical thinking skills, Leung responded, “I think this kind of goal [to learn critical thinking] should be left at the university level when the students are equipped with very correct knowledge, not out of bias, that kind of twisted information.”