Monday, April 09, 2012

Liberal Studies - HK style

The examination for Liberal Studies in the new Hong Kong Diploma of Secondary Education (HKDSE) examinations had just taken place.  Not surprisingly, there are some complaints and they are quite revealing.  The questions cover political parties and the government, second hand smoking of cigarettes, population control policies, supporting of parents, the third runway for the airport, impact of globalization on Chinese culture, moral issues related to DNA testing on the fetus, etc.

Some students were concerned that they might suffer because of a lack of interest in, and attention to political issues.  Others were worried that they might suffer at the hands of markers’ own personal bias - although the examination authority keeps assuring everyone that the students are marked on their analysis and presentation of arguments, not their personal standpoint.   Teachers and students have been complaining about the lack of model answers and past questions for reference.   These concerns are all expected, given the examination-driven education culture, and the reliance on examination questions with close-ended solutions. 

But this is precisely part of the objectives of the education reform: to reduce the reliance on close-ended questions and answers, to broaden the scope of the studies from narrowly-defined academic subjects to issues relevant to modern society, to emphasize analysis rather than memorization.  I am hoping these complaints are just part of the growing pains, that the education reform will continue in the right direction. 

This is the dilemma in Hong Kong.   If it is not in the examination, the students will not study it and the teacher will not teach it.  If it is in the examination, then the students are going to ask you what the question will look like, and exactly what the answer should be, how many words are expected to be written down, and in what format.  If the syllabus and the examination question are open-ended, without prescribed answers, then the teachers will not know how to teach it and mark it, and the students will not know how to study it.  

The problem with the new subject of Liberal Studies lie not in the way the examination questions are set and marked.  It lies in the design and content of the subject itself.  Too many unrelated topics are stuffed into one subject: personal development, interpersonal relationships, Hong Kong society, modern China, globalization, public health, energy technology and the environment.  There is no core knowledge or principles that tie the contents together to make a coherent subject.  It is a jumble of things that the students should know - though simply living as a person in modern society.  Not something to be studied in a classroom.  


M said...

I do feel sorry for the students - I studied 'IT' in the late eighties/early 90's. Then it was more a nascent theory of future 'information workers' than an actual profession and as such we ended up with a mish mash of what they thought we'd need: Computer Science modules, marketing, CNC programming, PASCAL, C+ programming, Engineering, Business studies and management. It was appalling. But then, you have to start somewhere and if I'd wanted stability I should have stuck to maths or English.

StephenC said...

Yes. The changes are not easy for the students. But overall the move away from rote learning, to more open styles of studies and examinations is good.