Hong Kong to ‘Reform’ Critical Thinking Program With China-Focused Content

The move will kill off Liberal Studies, which the authorities have blamed for a string of mass protest movements in recent years, a teachers’ union official says.

The Hong Kong government has revealed to the education sector its plans to re-purpose Liberal Studies in the city's schools, skewing it towards the patriotic indoctrination favored by Beijing.

The decade-old Liberal Studies program, blamed by China for a string of mass, pro-democracy and anti-government protests in Hong Kong in recent years, will now be repurposed as a vehicle for China's brand of "patriotic education," a proposal shelved following mass protests in 2009, according to a 45-page circular sent to schools in recent days.

The Education Bureau plans to "optimize" the program around four core subjects, under which topics will include "national security" and "national identity," as well as material relating to China's recent achievements.

There is also a module on "Chinese culture and modern life," which requires students to complete a project on some aspect of life in mainland China.

The name of the subject will also be changed, with "citizenship and country," "citizenship and social studies," and "social education," proposed as alternatives.

Tin Fong Chak, vice president of the Hong Kong Professional Teachers Union, said the entire premise of Liberal Studies had been to encourage critical thinking, something that will be lost under the new curriculum.

"We are all very suspicious that this is merely a form of patriotic education," Tin told RFA. "The values that we once cherished are disappeared."

"We said a few months ago that this wasn't about reforming Liberal Studies, but about killing it off," he said, adding that the part in which students learn about life in Hong Kong has been reduced to a discussion of the city's interaction with mainland China.

Tin said that while the Education Bureau had sent out the circular as part of a consultation exercise, no genuine consultation with teachers and school management would likely take place, as they weren't being asked for their opinions on the changes.

He said multiple choice and short answers would be much more heavily weighted in assessment of students' performance than before, when the education sector had encouraged essay-style answers to demonstrate critical thinking skills.

"Now they will account for more than 30 percent of the overall grade, and it appears that students must give the officially approved point of view to pass," he said.

Policies target youth

The move came after Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam set out an array of policies in November 2020 targeting the city's youth, citing figures showing that some 40 percent of the 10,000 people arrested in connection with the 2019 mass protest movement were students, out of which some 2,000 were in primary or secondary education at the time.

Echoing CCP officials, Lam blamed the "infiltration of politics into school campuses" for the appearance of young people in pro-democracy protests in recent years, and announced reforms to Liberal Studies to "[rectify] the previous deviation from the subject’s objective."

The move to reform Liberal Studies came as the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) listed Hong Kong in 87th place in its 2020 Democracy Index, downgrading it from "flawed democracy" to "hybrid regime."

"A national security law that curtails Hong Kong’s political freedoms and undermines its judicial independence was passed in June," the EIU report said. "Over the course of the year, pro-democracy activists were arrested, and several hundred protesters were imprisoned."

"Crackdown on opposition also continued—the central government sees no role in Hong Kong for parties that support greater local political autonomy for the territory," it said.

Mainland China ranks 151st in the same index, and is described as an "authoritarian regime."

Reported by Man Hoi Yan for RFA's Cantonese Service, and by Hsia Hsiao-hwa for the Mandarin Service. Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.

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