The Task Force on Review of School Curriculum is currently inviting submissions in respect to the primary and secondary school curricula. The review is very timely, and in view of its importance, the consultation period has now been extended by one month, to Oct 16.
The task force has noble and important goals, and sets out to examine “how to enhance students’ capacity to learn and nurture in them the values and qualities desired for students of the 21st century; how to better cater for students’ diverse abilities, interests, needs and aspirations; how to optimize the curriculum in creating space and opportunities for students’ whole-person development; and how to better articulate learning at the primary and secondary levels”.
Unfortunately, noble goals alone do not guarantee success. All the educational reforms launched over the past two decades had noble goals. But can anyone say that those initiatives have achieved the intended goals?
In order for the stated goals to be achieved, the teachers need to subscribe to those values and have those qualities themselves. Thus, we need to go beyond the curriculum.
Life education requires a good understanding of human nature. Human beings have both physical needs and emotional needs. If we care for someone, whether that someone is your lover, your spouse, your child, your parents, or your friend, we do not just take care of his/her physical needs, but also his emotional needs. Emotional needs include being respected and trusted. If we really love someone, we would care for his well-being. If someone says he loves you, but his behavior shows that he does not really care for your well-being and respect you as an individual, his “love” for you cannot be true love. I very much hope that students will learn to distinguish between love based on a genuine concern for the loved one’s well-being and “love” based on selfish desires.I had thought that given the apparent emphasis on “personal development and interpersonal relationships” in the Liberal Studies curriculum, our students would become more considerate and compassionate, wiser and respectful toward life, with more humility and motivation to learn, and with more resilience and the capability to cope with stress and disappointments, and more ready to take on the world and meet the challenges of the rapidly changing times. But, alas, are our teachers capable of offering tips on how to cope with stress and lessons on how to cope with disappointments and challenges? Many teachers cannot cope with stress; some even commit suicide. Even veteran Liberal Studies teachers have shown that they are emotionally unstable and harbor hatred toward the police. It is gratifying to see that the task force has recommended giving “higher priority to values education in schools, strengthen(ing) life education in particular, and start(ing) life planning education (LPE) early at the upper primary and junior secondary levels.” But a recent survey of mine shows that only 32 percent of the surveyed teachers had some training in life education. Since the teachers who were assigned to respond to our questionnaires may be more likely to have received life education, the percentage of teachers in general who have had formal training in life education may be even lower.
Our youngsters have to learn the true meaning of justice, and to put themselves in the shoes of others. It is good to see so many of them talk about justice and human rights, but sad to see that justice and human rights are not properly understood. Everyone deserves respect and freedom from harassment and injury. Giving due respect to others is justice
Those of us who have studied the Confucian Four Books may know what Confucius would advise in order to live happily and in good conscience. But the Analects typically do not explain the reasons for this advice. For example, in the Analects, Confucius says: “The benevolent man is attracted to benevolence because he feels at home in it. The wise man is attracted to benevolence because he finds it to his advantage.” Students will not easily accept such teachings. On the other hand, if the “advantage” is explained using scientific evidence and the findings from positive psychology, students will better understand. Moreover, if the touching stories of benevolent characters are studied or even played in dramas, students will be impressed with the noble characters, and even emulate their good deeds.
The Confucian book of Great Learning also offers much insight to wisdom: “When you know where to stop, you have stability. When you have stability, you can be tranquil. When you are tranquil, you can be at ease. When you are at ease, you can contemplate. When you can contemplate, you will gain understanding. There is always a distinction in terms of the essential and the trivia, the end and the beginning. When you have a good sense of priority and proportion, then you are near the way to truth.” Here, “knowing where to stop” is a sense of discipline: knowing what not to do and committing to avoid doing what is inappropriate. There is a lot of evidence that people with self-discipline are happier and can achieve much more than those without. The curricula need to offer training for self-discipline.
Above all, our youngsters have to learn the true meaning of justice, and to put themselves in the shoes of others. It is good to see so many of them talk about justice and human rights, but sad to see that justice and human rights are not properly understood. Everyone deserves respect and freedom from harassment and injury. Giving due respect to others is justice.
The author is a senior research fellow, Pan Sutong Shanghai-Hong Kong Economic Policy Research Institute, Lingnan University
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