Presently, Liberal Studies is a required subject in the DSE (Diploma of Secondary Education) curriculum. To be admitted to Hong Kong’s universities, students must achieve a grade no lower than 2 on a 0-to-5** scale. The subject has six modules: Personal development and interpersonal relationships, Hong Kong today, modern China, globalization, public health, and finally energy technology and the environment. In addition to the public examination-based assessment, there is a school-based assessment that is 20 percent of the overall grade. This is the independent enquiry study, which is intended to assess the ability of students to integrate their knowledge from different areas of study to investigate a topic of interest.
The Hong Kong Education City website says the subject serves “to broaden students’ knowledge base and enhance their social awareness through the study of a wide range of issues”. Education City was “established in 2000 with the support of the Quality Education Fund,” and “incorporated in 2002 to become a wholly owned company of the government. Its mission is to enable better adaptation to change curriculum initiatives through technology”. But the original intent evidently goes beyond this.
According to my own understanding, Liberal Studies should aim at “liberating the mind” from the strictures of arrogance, self-indulgence, lack of considerations for others, and nurturing critical and independent thinking. The intent is so our students can form their own judgments based on objective facts and sound reasoning. My understanding corroborates Secretary for Education Kevin Yeung Yun-hung’s. He recently stated that Liberal Studies is intended “to cultivate critical thinking and positive values”.
Liberal Studies as a subject on the DSE curriculum was introduced in 1992, and became compulsory 10 years ago. It is high time we reviewed its effectiveness in delivering what was intended. The Task Force on Review of School Curriculum has just launched a two-month consultation. But the consultation document has sadly not included an assessment of the effectiveness of the subject in cultivating critical thinking and positive values.
Liberal Studies should aim at “liberating the mind” from the strictures of arrogance, self-indulgence, lack of considerations for others, and nurturing critical and independent thinking
From what I can gather, over the last 10 years there has been no progress at all in students’ critical and independent thinking, and little progress in resilience and positive living. I have seen teachers praise students for their independent thinking instead of warning them against arrogance. Actually humility is a virtue that we all need to learn, not only our students. Teachers, in particular, should set an example, but instead I have seen teachers in both schools and tertiary institutions display arrogance. Students are displaying more narrow-mindedness. Students have today become more prone to defying civilized values and trumping up hatred.
It was recently reported that student unions of several universities are opposing on-campus recruitment of police officers, and they portray the police as using excessive violence and as enemies of the people. Such blanket statements and attitudes clearly suggest a lack of critical thinking. While it is possible that some police officers may have done wrong, they surely know that there were violent attacks at the police when police fired tear gas, plastic bullets, and bean bags. They surely know that the crowds outnumber the police by far. It was simply not possible to push back the advance and the violent attacks with only their batons, particularly when bricks and metal rods were being thrown at them.
Students with critical thinking surely should know that people who commit criminal acts should be held responsible for their misdeeds. But our student unions are now demanding dropping all charges facing the perpetrators of violence.
Students with critical thinking certainly would not believe the narrative that if the fugitive law amendment bill was passed, Hong Kong people would lose their freedoms, including freedom of speech, and that they would be extradited to the mainland for speech that may not be politically correct. Freedom of speech is a right enshrined in the Basic Law, and there can be no criminal charge for “wrongful” use of speech. One can of course be charged with defamation but that is a civil action not a criminal one. So there is just no possibility of anyone being extradited to the mainland on the ground of misuse of speech freedom.
Unfortunately, many youngsters truly believe the claim that passing the fugitive law amendments will destroy freedoms in Hong Kong. How can this be, when there is the Basic Law and we have an independent judiciary, and many internationally renowned judges serve in our Court of Final Appeal?
Sadly, a student from Education University killed herself on Saturday blaming the fugitive bill, pleading the government to withdraw the bill and release those arrested; she also wanted the chief executive to step down. All her demands were based on misinformation and poor judgment. But in truth, fearmongers are at least partly responsible for the suicide of the youngster, and the huge turnout of demonstrators.
The subject Liberal Studies has not served us well. It is time to take a critical look at the contents and delivery of the courses in our schools.
The author is the dean of business at Chu Hai College of Higher Education.
HONG KONG NEWS