22 August 2019
Hong Kong students held a class boycott in September to campaign for democracy. The event was followed by the Occupy protests. Photo: AFP
Hong Kong students held a class boycott in September to campaign for democracy. The event was followed by the Occupy protests. Photo: AFP

Liberal studies helps students understand real HK

Liberal studies has long been a controversial subject in Hong Kong secondary schools.

It may face changes in the way it is taught in the near future, as the government has proposed excluding from the curriculum the topic of engagement in community affairs.

This shows the government is afraid of young people being involved in activities related to society as a whole and want them instead to be taught to be obedient and avoid critical thinking about government policies.

The Education Bureau justified its proposal by saying participation in community affairs is already covered in another section of the same subject.

Some government officials believe the liberal studies curriculum played a part in encouraging students to join the Occupy Central movement, media reports say.

Why was liberal studies introduced to Hong Kong’s secondary schools?

The aim was to help students develop an understanding of the major issues confronting our society in the 21st century and to equip them with the critical thinking skills they need to make informed, critical judgments about these issues.

In a normal society, it would be quite normal for students to join in activities to voice their needs directly to the government.

Their goal would be to improve the quality of life and social security of their fellow citizens and themselves.

However, China treats activities such as peaceful demonstrations in Hong Kong as a source of social instability, hindering the city’s economic development and worsening cross-border relations. 

Against this backdrop, it is not surprising that the Education Bureau proposes to eliminate the unit dealing with how youngsters can participate in community affairs.

The government has been challenged by two major student-led protests in the past couple of years — one in 2012, led by Scholarism, against the proposal for national education; and the ongoing campaign for true democracy, among the leaders of which are the Hong Kong Federation of Students and, again, Scholarism.

In fact, the growing political awareness of Hong Kong students in recent years is due to the mandatory education in liberal studies in the post-handover era.

Before that, the colonial government discouraged any classroom discussion of political affairs, so as to avoid any challenge to British rule.

It was Tung Chee-hwa, the first chief executive under Chinese rule, who initiated the introduction of liberal studies to nurture students’ civic education.

Civic consciousness is crucial for students. The more they can learn in school about the society they live in, the better they can understand the reality of Hong Kong.

The ugly injustice of the city’s unfair electoral system, the widening of the wealth gap between the rich and the poor, as well as the imbalance in relations between the mainland and Hong Kong under “one country, two systems” — all these came to the attention of students during their liberal studies classes.

Some might say the existing curriculum focuses on negative social issues and that students should also be taught how a strong China benefits Hong Kong and the world.

Of course, the schools should teach students about such positive aspects in an objective manner, reflecting the facts rather than as propaganda.

The government treats students’ minds as a clean sheet and wants to fill it entirely with politically correct content, to please Beijing. However, education occurs not only in school but also at home and via the internet.

If the authorities want the next generation to support them, the simplest way is to come up with good policies and execute them well — not just focus on adjusting the students’ political thinking.

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EJ Insight writer

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