The Liberal Studies subject is one of the most controversial issues in the 334 New Secondary School (NSS) Academic Structure being implemented in Hong Kong. Teachers find it difficult to teach. Students find it hard to study. Universities find (the students’ performance in) it difficult to assess and interpret.
It has the lofty goals “to ensure that all students develop an understanding of the major issues confronting our society in the 21st century and that they are equipped with the critical thinking skills that they need in order to make informed, critical judgments about these issues.” So, it is supposed to be about critical thinking, and making judgments. All laudable goals.
However, students complain that it is really all about the same old memorization. Why is that? It is the combination of two factors. One is that phrase “informed judgments”. The other is the very broad scope which includes “science, the humanities and the liberal arts.”
What can the poor teachers do to help the even poorer students to make “informed” judgments over a very broad scope of topics - in a life-determining public examination? Well, what else but the tried-and-true memorization of facts after facts after facts?
That’s why I find students being asked to memorize the facts about the people’s communes, The Three Red Banners, Great Leap Forward, Hu Yaobang’s criticism of Hua Guofeng’s ‘Two Whatevers’ (without explaining what are the two Whatevers), household responsibility system, the three rural issues, rural household registration, ... All in the first 10 pages of a 150 page book on the module on Modern China. And Modern China is only one of the 6 modules in “Liberal Studies in Life”. The others are Personal Development and Interpersonal Relationships, Hong Kong Today, Globalization, Public Health, Energy Technology & the Environment.
These are, of course, pertinent issues an informed citizen of Hong Kong should be familiar with. But, can you imagine the amount of “facts” the students (our children) are being asked to memorize, to be prepared to make “informed” judgments in the examinations?
Somehow, Hong Kong has a way of turning any interesting subject into a test of memorization.