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Task force proposes vetting Liberal Studies textbooks

By Chen Zimo in Hong Kong | | Updated: 2020-09-24 21:38
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A school curriculum review task force has proposed to education authorities on Tuesday that they vet the much-criticized Liberal Studies textbooks, which have been blamed for the large number of youngsters participating in the city's yearlong street violence.

In a report released after three months of public consultation from late June 2019, the task force, formed in November 2017, recommended the Education Bureau officially scrutinize Liberal Studies textbooks currently in use, and the bureau should also examine those on the market and issue official certifications of the qualified Liberal Studies materials.

Liberal Studies was introduced in 2009 as a mandatory field of study for senior secondary students with a general curriculum of six modules. Unlike other key courses in Hong Kong, the teaching materials need not be examined by the Education Bureau and don't need to be certified by the official "Recommended Textbook List". Liberal Studies teachers can prepare their teaching materials and teaching notes as they please without a formal syllabus.

It was noted in the report that the government has received numerous requests to abolish Liberal Studies as a compulsory subject. Liberal Studies, the report cited, has been blamed as "the culprit of unruly and radical youth behavior" seen in the street violence that has rocked the city since June 2019.

While proposing to keep the course as a core subject in secondary schools, the group also suggested a series of curriculum reforms, including simplifying the curriculum and strengthening the oversight of textbooks and the training of teachers as an answer to the public uproar over the course material.

The teachers should be trained in teaching under the revised curriculum framework, while the management of the schools should ensure the quality of the teaching materials and the effective implementation of the course through "self-evaluation" and an "accountability mechanism".

Eddie Ting Kong-ho, a Liberal Studies teacher at Pui Kiu Middle School in North Point, supported the vetting of the learning materials for Liberal Studies to avoid misleading, biased teaching.

The Liberal Studies textbooks have reportedly contained conceptual errors, such as incorrectly describing Hong Kong's political system as having a "separation of powers", or citing misleading ideas, such as "achieving justice by violating the law", Ting said. These views have contributed to the lawlessness in the society and led students to engage in violence in the past year, he added.

The Education Bureau should supervise the content provided in the Liberal Studies classes and even come up with an official set of textbooks for reference, said Ting, a committee member of the Hong Kong Federation of Education Workers.

Ting said the proposed revamping, though insufficient by itself to ultimately solve the long-standing problems in the subject, would enable the city's education authorities and schools to shoulder their due responsibility to provide rightful guidance to students. These responsibilities have not been adequately fulfilled since Liberal Studies was introduced as a compulsory subject in 2009, Ting said.

"I believed that these actions can give Hong Kong parents and the general public the confidence that we are rectifying the problem," Ting said.

Mark Mak, Liberal Studies panel head at HKSKH Bishop Hall Secondary School, said that the Education Bureau started to offer a professional consultancy service to the publishers of Liberal Studies textbooks in October 2019. During the project, the government, the publishers, and Liberal Studies teachers could reach a clearer understanding and positioning of the content and liberal expressions in the textbooks, especially the interpretation of conventional topics, like the aging population and pandemic prevention, he said.

Mak suggested the government adopt an official definition of important concepts in its curriculum guides for the local education sector so that teachers, publishers and the Hong Kong Examinations and Assessment Authority could follow and avoid controversial interpretations.

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