Hong Kong’s leader has urged school managers to help guard against pupils being affected by “fallacious arguments”, warning some people intentionally infused various subjects with misconceptions.
But Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor’s remarks in a newspaper interview immediately drew fire from Hong Kong’s biggest teachers’ union, which said most principals and teachers carried out their jobs professionally and urged her to apologise and withdraw her “insulting” comments.
In the interview with pro-Beijing newspaper Ta Kung Pao published on Monday, Lam said there were problems in education that had to be fixed, and the government would announce this year how to handle the controversial liberal studies subject, which some critics have blamed for inciting students to take part in the months-long social unrest.
Lam said that aside from the Education Bureau, school management and sponsoring bodies had a responsibility for gatekeeping teaching materials, as misconceptions could filter into subjects such as liberal studies, or even Chinese and English.
“That’s why we need people to be responsible for gatekeeping purposes,” she said, stressing the education sector should not become a “chicken coop without a door”.
Liberal studies, which is taught to all Form Four to Six pupils as part of the curriculum for the university entrance exams, aims to enhance students’ social awareness and critical-thinking skills.
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While there were calls to scrap liberal studies, a Task Force on Review of School Curriculum set up in 2017 suggested in its midterm report last June that the subject should be kept to be a core one at secondary levels.
A bureau spokeswoman said on Monday there had been much concern from different bodies over the liberal studies content, teaching materials and assessment methods. She said the bureau would announce more concrete ways for the subject to move forward based on suggestions from the task force as well as from members of the public.
Education sector lawmaker Ip Kin-yuen disagreed with Lam’s “chicken coop” comments, saying most teachers and principals were dedicated and professional.
“This is an insult to the education sector. I strongly urge Lam to retract her comments and apologise to teachers,” said Ip, vice-president of the 100,000-member pro-democracy Professional Teachers’ Union.
Lau Kam-fai, president of Hong Kong Liberal Studies Teachers’ Association, said the subject already had procedures to keep an eye on content, including discussions and review of teaching materials among teachers.
“The Education Bureau also has an inspection mechanism which will look at the situation at different schools and discuss with them how to improve,” Lau said.
“I don’t believe liberal studies has [incited pupils] to join protests … students are taught to listen to different opinions and show respect and tolerance to others.”
Wong Kwan-yu, president of the pro-establishment Hong Kong Federation of Education Workers and a Hong Kong delegate to the National People’s Congress, believed teachers were not to blame for discussing politics during liberal studies lessons.
“In the first three years after the subject was introduced [as a compulsory subject], we could see there were politically related exam questions. When the questions are like that, you cannot blame the teachers for teaching students politically related issues,” he said.
However, Wong added that many schools also taught liberal studies in lower secondary classes, which caused students to be discussing politics at a relatively early or premature stage. The number of schools doing so was about 200 this school year.
“There should be a line drawn in terms of the amount of political materials taught, because too much of those might not be good for our pupils.
“Students could care about current affairs and politics, but they should not go as far as participating [in social movements].”
The Post has contacted Lam’s office for comment.