In the coming school year, national security education will be introduced to all Hong Kong primary and secondary schools in phases as required by the Education Bureau (EDB). As for senior secondary school students, they will begin to study the Citizenship and Social Development (CSD) subject in the same year, a subject that is replacing the Liberal Studies subject that is being “killed off” - as it were – by the government. The EDB has recently released documents about these two changes, sparking renewed discussion in society.
In the past, it would take years of preparation before a curricular reform could be launched, and frontline teachers would be consulted. That was particularly the case when something as radical as the creation of a new subject happened. During the preparation stage, the academic circles were allowed to have full discussions and express their views on the contents of the new curriculum, the management of schools would be given time to make plans as soon as possible, and textbook publishers would be able to revise and adjust the contents of textbooks for the new curriculum. This time, with unprecedented efficiency, the EDB has formulated and published the framework for the national security education component of each subject and the curriculum guidelines for the CSD subject within less than a year. The established procedure of consultation and discussion with professionals has been completely bypassed. Even though the EDB did send questionnaires to all secondary schools on the CSD subject, the questionnaires were only addressed to schools, while in the past every frontline teacher would be allowed to express their views. This smacks of a fake consultation exercise. The haste with which the new curriculum has been launched shows that the government prioritizes politics above everything else. Not only has it prevented the education sector from discussing the new change, but it has created at least two major problems.
To teachers, one of the most worrying things is the statement in the guidelines for the CSD subject that “developing events and issues are often highly controversial” and thus should not be used as topics for studies. However, students are often most interested in current affairs, and the discussion of such issues is often the best way to promote learning motivation. Furthermore, enhancing students’ knowledge of and interest in current events is supposed to be the purpose of civic education. How can the EDB restrict teachers from exploring developing events or topics in class? Moreover, senior secondary school education aside, the curricular documents for the General Studies subject in primary school also suggest that “magazines, newspaper articles and information leaflets should be used to complement textbook contents in providing examples of current issues” in an attempt to “raise students’ awareness of current issues and connect learning with everyday life”. Why is it that primary school students are allowed to be concerned about current issues while senior secondary school students are not allowed to discuss them, so much so that they are deprived of the opportunity to “connect learning with everyday life”? The EDB is completely unable to provide a convincing answer to this question.
Besides, the curricular guidelines themselves are rather self-contradictory. On the one hand, it is said that current affairs are “often highly controversial” and therefore it is inappropriate for them to be discussed. On the other hand, the guidelines require teachers to teach students to understand the different interests and points of view of different stakeholders. Then should controversial issues be discussed? Should the CSD subject teach students the conflicting interests and points of view of different stakeholders? Another contradiction is the requirement that the “Belt and Road Initiative” be taught in the subject, while the framework of the national education component even requires senior secondary school students to understand the trade conflicts between China and the US. How come these are not “developing events”? The curriculum also covers developments in China. Now, on the mainland, the birth control restriction has been relaxed to three children. If current issues cannot be discussed, should teachers be teaching the “two-children policy” or even the “one-child policy” instead?
The curricular guidelines are bundled with some preconceived notions concerning some issues. Take the Closer Economic Partnership Arrangement (CEPA) and the development of the Greater Bay Area. In the past, students were often required to discuss the “opportunities and threats” brought about by such policies. Now the CSD subject only requires teachers to teach students how these policies will promote the development of Hong Kong. Does it mean that the CSD will not encourage multi-angle thinking and will merely be about one-way indoctrination?
It is precisely because the new curriculum was not discussed extensively and was launched hastily that these bizarre situations have occurred. The chairperson of a pro-establishment organization even said to the media that “if an issue is not too controversial, I believe it can be discussed.” This is really ridiculous.
Too many exchanges and field trips diminish learning outcomes
Another important issue with the CSD subject is the requirement that all students should go on a field trip to mainland China. The guidelines state that such a field trip should not be made optional. A student must go on a field trip to mainland China unless they have sufficient grounds that they cannot do so. While we are not against the idea of a mainland field trip, we are convinced that the student’s or the parent’s choice should be given priority. The public has already raised concerns about this, so I am not repeating them here. It is the proliferation of student exchanges I want to talk about.
It was the last administration that began ceaselessly encouraging students to go on exchanges to the mainland, with resources provided for schools to organize these trips. There is nothing wrong with providing resources for schools to allow students to participate in as wide a range of learning activities as possible on a voluntary basis. However, the government’s obsession with student exchanges has reached a point that borders on irrationality. The EDB has published the framework for the national security education component in ten high school subjects. Eight of them recommend field trips to the mainland. Although apart from the CSD subject, no subjects require students to go on exchanges, it can be seen that the government wishes to see that mainland exchanges for different subjects are organized as much as possible.
What are the disadvantages of too many student exchanges? First, they increase the workload of teachers massively, so that they will have to cut back on the time for the preparation of everyday lessons. For students, the learning outcome will be highly limited if an exchange covers too many subjects and becomes something along the lines of “If It’s Tuesday, This Must Be Belgium” tours. My view is that the EDB should give leeway to school rather than make student exchanges compulsory for certain subjects. Only by allowing schools to plan exchange activities themselves according to students’ interests and strengths can learning outcomes be improved and educational resources be used in an appropriate manner.
(Fung Wai-wah, President of the Hong Kong Professional Teachers’ Union)
This article is translated from Chinese by Apple Daily.
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