Our Hong Kong Foundation has published its latest Education and Youth policy research report, “Liberating Liberal Studies: Cultivating Interdisciplinary Learning, Thinking Skills and Appreciation of Diversity.”
Liberal Studies is a landmark development in Hong Kong’s educational development in the 21st century. The impact of the New Senior Secondary academic system on the youth of our next generation over the past 10 years cannot be overstated.
However, Liberal Studies has also provoked a great deal of discussion over its various elements, such as its curriculum, assessment system, and quality of teaching. As the education reforms nears its first decade, OHKF considers it timely to evaluate the effectiveness of Liberal Studies, and to assess if the subject has fulfilled its teaching aims.
Liberal Studies aimed to shatter past inflexible teaching methods, help students undergo interdisciplinary learning, assist them in mastering thinking skills, and teach them to respect others’ opinions. Liberal Studies as is, however, has fallen short of its original aspirations. The overly broad curriculum and rigid assessment mode have prevented students from conducting vigorous issue-enquiry approaches into topics, and the examination framework not only constrains them from broadening their horizons, but also limits their creativity and innovation by encouraging binary thinking.
Global trends have brought unprecedented challenges to both Liberal Studies and the education system as a whole. Due to the worldwide information explosion in the digital age, students must learn how to analyse the authenticity of information and discern the truth of things, which dovetails neatly with Liberal Studies’ aims. Major countries have increasingly emphasised thinking skills, communication techniques, active citizenships, and self-directed learning skills in order to tackle 21st century challenges. Liberal Studies is therefore more important than ever, as it seeks to instil all these attributes in students.
As a versatile course, Liberal Studies holds its teaching material and teachers to high standards. A study conducted by OHKF discovered that 39% of secondary school teachers use social media as one of their main teaching materials in Liberal Studies, and an overwhelming 83% of school principals surveyed think that the Education Bureau should review textbooks to ensure their objectivity and fairness. Failure to select teaching materials carefully could affect the veracity and impartiality of teaching. The extensive scope of the curriculum necessitates that teachers grasp a wide range of topics and key concepts, in order to fulfil teaching aims. OHKF’s study indicates that 76% of teachers surveyed think that Liberal Studies holds them to inordinately high standards.
OHKF hopes to examine whether Liberal Studies has accomplished the objectives of the education reforms, and to discuss the possibility of refining its core aims and amplifying its educational outcomes. This report puts forth 13 policy recommendations across 5 interwoven components, hoping to refocus and fine-tune Liberal Studies’ teaching aims. The components include: refining curriculum topics and enhancing course design, revamping the marking and assessment mechanisms, ensuring fair and unbiased teaching materials, providing professional training to improve the teaching process, and adjusting Liberal Studies requirements in further articulation. Key to the report are recommendations that the curriculum content be consolidated and reworked, the current seven-point grading scale be replaced with a pass or fail system, and Liberal Studies be removed from the JUPAS scoring system for admissions purposes.