The Education Bureau’s proposal for the reform of the liberal studies curriculum has raised some concern because the new curriculum promises coverage on national security and national education. Mr Kevin Yeung Yun-hung, the Secretary for Education, explained that this is entirely legitimate, because the Constitution, the Basic Law, and the constitutional status of Hong Kong are important matters that students need to understand. He also pointed out that there is no problem with teachers and students discussing problems on the mainland as long as the discussions are based on facts and rational analysis.
In my earlier article on liberal studies curriculum reform in this column, I had proposed that the course be renamed “Personal Development and Critical Thinking”, which is clearly in the spirit of liberal education, and which I still maintain to be a good choice. However, in view of the prevalence of misunderstanding among students about China and a general lack of a historical perspective on Hong Kong, I agree there is indeed a need to educate students about China and the Hong Kong SAR as they are, and, I would argue that, provided the subject is properly taught, this is entirely consistent with critical thinking and personal development.
Mr Kevin Lau Chun-to, former editor of Ming Pao, in an article in Ming Pao, raised three questions: (1) Can students raise questions? (2) Do students have the freedom to search the internet? (3) Can students raise points of view that challenge the official view? To me the answers to these questions are an obvious “yes”. Without going through the process of doubt, investigation, and analysis, students will never know the truth, and will never be able to tell truth from lies. This is exactly what critical thinking is all about.
An important aspect about “Personal Development and Critical Thinking” is the realization that we do not live in a perfect world, and that we all are subject to limitations, which means that no one can be free from mistakes. Thus, there is of course a possibility that the “official line” may be wrong. Indeed, the Communist Party of China had made mistakes in the past. Because the mistakes of the “official line” at the time were not recognized, unhappy things had come about. But the Communist Party has learned from its mistakes and has evolved to become wiser and stronger. It is a fact that our country has witnessed stability and peace for over four decades, allowing the economy to develop and prosper and people’s livelihood to improve by leaps and bounds. This testifies to the Party’s ability to correct its mistakes. It is a fact that our compatriots on the mainland are now free from hunger, from war, from terrorist attacks. Many can travel all over the world; more and more are well educated; and all are well protected with a social safety net. All this did not happen fortuitously: Our forefathers have sacrificed, suffered, learned the hard way, and worked very hard to achieve what China is today.
Can students raise questions? Of course they can, and they should, whenever they are in doubt. But there should be no presumption of any kind, and they should always have a broader and longer perspective, and guard the long-term interests of Hong Kong and those of the country at heart. Even more important is that critical thinking does not allow ideological biases. It requires cool analysis
A country’s development and an individual’s personal development share a lot of similarities. Mistakes are unavoidable. That is why we need to forgive. Mistakes are hard, because they often lead to injury and hardships. That is why we need to learn. Mistakes are valuable, because they teach us.
Today there is a lot of misunderstanding and wariness about the National Security Law for Hong Kong, but we really cannot do without it. How else can we bring peace back to the city we call our home? Do we prefer the chaos and the damage that we had witnessed in 2019? Don’t we have empathy for those who had suffered physically, economically, and mentally because of the physical and verbal abuse? The NSL has brought peace back to Hong Kong.
Our students need to understand that our country does not exist in a vacuum. It has to face and avert threats, and threats are real and they come from all sides. We must not imagine that there are no lies in the “free press” of the West. We need to examine any “information” that comes our way with a critical mind.
Can students raise questions? Of course they can, and they should, whenever they are in doubt. But there should be no presumption of any kind, and they should always have a broader and longer perspective, and guard the long-term interests of Hong Kong and those of the country at heart. Even more important is that critical thinking does not allow ideological biases. It requires cool analysis.
Do students have the freedom to search the internet? Of course they have. But again, “information” on the internet could be disinformation disguised as information.
Can students raise points of view that challenge the official view? Of course they can. Historically, the official view had sometimes been wrong, and the country had paid the price. At one time, ideology came first under the official orthodoxy, and it was Deng Xiaoping who advised that whatever works, whether it is “surnamed” “capitalist” or “socialist,” should be given the chance to prevail in policy.
Thus, critical thinkers would not criticize the official line on the basis of ideology. Educators need to free themselves from fundamentalist thinking. Without critical thinking, educators who talk about personal development would be paying only lip service.
The author is a senior research fellow at the Pan Sutong Shanghai-Hong Kong Economic Policy Research Institute, Lingnan University.
The views do not necessarily reflect those of China Daily.
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