After students participated in the anti-extradition movement in 2019, pro-government people blamed the “rebellion” on the emergence of the new subject of Citizenship and Social Development (CSD).
Hence, The Hong Kong government (HKGov) later focused on reforming the entire subject.
After a batch of secondary school students takes the last-ever Liberal Studies diploma exam, the subject will be nailed to the coffin forever.
It will be replaced by Citizenship and Social Development, which will be a compulsory examination for high school students. The subject will also officially be included in the university entrance examinations and will be included in the Civil and Social Development Section, to evaluate whether students’ national awareness reaches the requirement.
As Liberal Studies head to its end, two of the major liberal studies teacher organizations, namely the Hong Kong Liberal education association and the Hong Kong liberal studies teachers’ association will be dissolved one after another.
Zhang Ruihui, former chairman of Hong Kong Liberal Studies Teachers’ Association, described the kill-off of Liberal Studies, and the involuntary disbandment of the groups; “These are just some of the things that the Hong Kong-China government has done to repress Hongkongers since 2019, and what makes a great setback for freedom and human rights.”
Looking back, Zhang said, “Since the anti-national education movement in 2012 and the Occupy Central Movement in 2014, pro-government politicians began to blame the government’s policy errors for the cause of public rage, and the teaching of liberal studies—apparently students turned bad because of the subject. Ironically though, the government had recognized the objectives and teaching outcomes of liberal studies all along.”
Zhang remembered the Secretary of Education at the time, Eddie Ng Hak-kim, had listened to the front-line teachers, the association officers, and consultants, before having a confrontational query with the pro-government (DAB party) legislators at the Legislative Council. Zhang also emphasized that Liberal Studies cultivates multi-dimensional thinking while affirming the professionalism of Liberal Studies teachers.
Zhang commented: “Liberal studies initially was a bold and advancing secondary school subject. Unfortunately, it was completely tarnished by the regime, which abandoned the consultation procedure that was deemed effective. This shows us the true color and ugliness of the government. It is more shameful than regretful.”
CCP Will Not Tolerate Liberal Studies in Education
Epoch Times’ Commentator, Shi Shan pointed out that after the anti-extradition movements in 2019, Chinese Communist Party (CCP) had been sending their people to “investigate” and concluded that there isn’t enough patriotism in Hong Kong education, since it is closer to the universal values in the West.
So they had to at least reform the teaching of common knowledge and social viewpoints at school. On top of that, Liberal Studies often discuss Hong Kong social topics and issues. It involves a discussion of how students view the anti-extradition movement. The CCP was losing sleep over it.
Shi also thought that the biggest difference between liberal studies in Hong Kong and politically-related subjects in mainland China is that, in China, the schools will provide you with every model answer. No discussion is allowed. The questions are also leading. Instead of asking “which is better, capitalism or socialism?” They ask the students “Why is socialism better than capitalism ?”
Shi continued that: “The Chinese government requires all students to have their model answers in history, philosophy, literature, and so on. Right now this is exactly what China is doing to Hong Kong—they are cloning their method and beliefs in China and forcing it onto Hong Kong. They think that is the only way to rule Hong Kong; the only way to make Hongkongers embrace the motherland ‘again.’
“The autocratic ruling of the CCP focuses on propaganda and education. They won’t rest assured unless everything is controlled and kept airtight. Under dictatorship, the CCP controls the society by closing everything up. Shi Shan explained, that: “The far left in the CP are all involved with education and propaganda. They are more conservative than the officers who are minding the economy. Liberal Studies is probably their biggest kryptonite. They have to remove it at all costs.”
Shi Shan described annihilating liberal studies as the first step in tightening their increasing control over Hong Kong schools. “Why? Because the CCP does not know how to engage in liberal studies, since it does not exist in mainland China, they thought it was best to eliminate it first. The next step would be to implement. stronger education comparable to mainland politics. They intend to stifle the critical thinking of Hongkongers from a young age.
When exactly were Liberal studies seen by CCP as the culprit of students joining social movements? When we reviewed some of the timelines, it was 2019, during the anti-extradition movements. After the protesters had stormed into the legislative council on July 1, Tung Chee Hwa, vice chairman of NPCPC, the National Committee of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference, and Hong Kong ex-chief executive, claimed that the main reason for the problem among young people was because of liberal studies. it was during Tung’s term when citizenship and social development became an involuntary subject in high school.
Eradicate Subjects Deemed to ‘Endanger National Security’
According to Professor Benson Wong Wai-kwok, former assistant professor of politics and international relations at the Hong Kong Baptist University, 2019 was the turning point for Hong Kong’s education policies. Wong said that before 2019, the Education Bureau (EDB) officials would still handle curriculum issues in a professional, objective, and open-minded manner.
For example, before Liberal Studies became a compulsory subject in high school, they had considered Hong Kong students to have international perspectives, knowledge of the country and public affairs, as well as an understanding of personal growth.
Wong criticized that after the then Secretary for Education, Kevin Yeung Yun-hung, took office, Yeung immediately executed political purges of the education bureaucrats. Yeung believed that the Education Bureau may have been infiltrated in different forms previously; or through some incidents of “national security concerns.” Yeung wanted to eliminate any subject that “endangers national security,” possibly to reach his political goals or orders.
Wong described the politicization and communization of Hong Kong’s education has been targeting national security. the government no longer cared how education would turn out; “The current theme song is national security. Anything from education, economics, societal livelihood, and social benefits, has been tossed out. The CCP has always been ‘Politics first.’”
Wong Wai Kwok also lamented that the current education in Hong Kong has also been “emptied,” and the HKGov has forsaken the values of critical and independent thinking, creativity, and even autonomy and flexibility that education itself should have. Depleting our values, and replacing them with one-way-only information, such as having unquestionable loyalty to a party or country, absolute obedience to orders, blind compliance to the law, distortion of history and knowledge, is caging up the entire generation of people in jail, “In their mind, as long as a certain value or idea process is imprinted in their brains, people can be easily manipulated and controlled; no one will rebel.”
Wong also thought that education now has lost its essence of education itself. He called it “plundering brainwashing.” He mentioned a friend’s six-year-old son who regularly says “China Hong Kong,’ but this term is not used to address Hong Kong except in Mainland Chinese politics.
He questions whether children understand at such a young age, let alone the meaning of a country, or whether the lyrics of the national anthem reflect the country realistically: “Through abolishing education to destroy a generation, schools, organizations, teachers and students have no choice but to accept.”
Wong reckoned that educational organizations in Hong Kong should consider whether they should carry on, if they can no longer run a proper, normal learning space, “You either become an accomplice of the regime, or you stop poisoning the next generations of Hongkongers.”
Alienating Liberal Studies to Revivify National Education
In 2020, the EDB did not accept the suggestions of keeping liberal studies and its assessment system, which was recommended by the Task Force on Review of School Curriculum. EDB announced that it would simplify the exam model of Liberal Studies to either pass or fail.
Chief Executive Carrie Lam at the time said during her Policy Address that Liberal Studies had been alienated, hence a reform was necessary. Lam stated that the controversy on the subject had never ended in the past 10 years. She also said that there is no curriculum work frame or approval textbooks and that was the problem from day one.
EDB claimed, in 2021, that the alienation of Liberal Studies is because there were too many generalized political discussions, as students lack knowledge of the system. Affected by the change of direction on the drafted questions in public exams, the discussions become dualistic, and with an excessive focus on political topics. It misinterpreted critical thinking, as challenging the regime, leaning into criticism or objection in everything. The department also claimed liberal studies overlooked the principles of fact-building and judgment after cautious evaluation.
Eventually, liberal studies was replaced by CiSD with a brand new curriculum.
However, the fact is, that Liberal Studies have a framework. EDB published data showing the three study areas of the subject are: self and personal growth; society and culture; and science, technology and environment. Additionally, it also includes six elements of: personal growth and interpersonal relationship, Hong Kong today, modern China, globalization, public health, energy technology and environment, plus an 82-hour independent thematic exploration on suggested topics. These included media, education, religion, sports, arts, technology, and communication technology, which take up 50 percent of the subject marks.
According to the Education Bureau’s Guidelines on the Curriculum and Assessment of civic and social development, the curriculum takes Hong Kong, the country, and the modern world as the three core contents and it becomes a compulsory subject. However, it does not require school evaluation. The subject also takes students on field trips to China, to “Allow students to inspect China’s development personally and widen their horizons.”
This, in turn, revivified the national education subject which was repulsed by the public in 2012 and made compulsory. To make this subject meet the standards, the subject of Citizenship and Social Development also became a school-based criterion for Hong Kong students to enter universities.
The guideline also stated that Citizenship and Social Development, “emphasizes the importance of cultivating students’ positive values, enthusiastic attitudes and recognizing national identity, learning national development, the constitution, the Basic Law and the rule of law”.
Additionally, two of the learning outcomes are, recognizing national identity and having a global perspective: understanding their interrelationships and impact on the development and impact of the contemporary world, from the fields of economy, science, technology, sustainability, and public health, as well as understanding the roles of Hong Kong, the state and the international community; learning to appreciate, recognizing, appreciating and inheriting the Chinese culture, while having a respectful, inclusive and appreciative attitude towards different cultures, becoming a responsible citizen.
Students Must Support Government Policies
Although CSD will only be available in 2024 for the first open exam, EDB had already published an exam sample. The difference is that the majority of the questions require students to support government policies.
For instance, a question about the national security law requires students to eliminate the doubts that some people have based on the given data. It also requires students to illustrate the importance of nurturing Hong Kong students’ national conceptions.
When it comes to the development of the Greater Bay area, the paper requires the students to pitch to foreign telecom enterprises that the greater bay has an advantage in conducting their business, from the perspective of the Hong Kong trade and development council.
Shockingly, the four textbooks of Citizenship and Social Development were submitted for approval in 2022, it was discovered by the media a few days later that it wrote “Hong Kong has never been a colony.”
The argument was that the Chinese government after the Qing dynasty had never given away the control of Hong Kong. What the UK was implementing in Hong Kong, was solely the rights to govern, but not the power of colonized ruling and even before 1997, China always had Sovereignty over Hong Kong.
Hong Kong historian Yeung Wing-yu criticized what’s written in the books as from the historic facets, which is part of what is needed to repress “Hong Kong independence.” Yeung describes Hong Kong’s education as, “Completely, ‘far from the historical facts’ and was part of the CCP’s crackdown on Hong Kong independence—resulting in a fallen education system in Hong Kong schools, in which students will learn nothing but lies. There will not be any truth to the insight.”
National Security and National education has completely infiltrated universities, primary, secondary schools and kindergartens.
Other than CSD in secondary schools, after the CCP forced the national security law upon Hong Kong, national security education became the primary pivot of education in Hong Kong. EDB’s Kevin Yeung yun-hung shared that both national education and national security education are inseparable.
EDB also published a notice to state, “kindergartens should also help toddlers to understand Hong Kong is part of the country China and as a chinese national; they should learn the national flag, flag ceremony, and to develop their sense of belonging to the motherland, as a national.” EDB will offer up to HK$3000 (US$385) subsidies to kindergartens who join the voucher plan for purchasing national flags and mobile flag posts for flag raising in kindergartens.
During February and May 2021, the Education Bureau promulgated the Framework for the National Security Education Curriculum in Hong Kong, as well as the Framework for National Security Education for 15 primary and secondary schools.
These were to elaborate on topics, teaching priorities and learning elements related to national security within different subjects in the school curricula, including: national concepts, national identity, One country, Two Systems, amongst others.
The curriculum framework also mentioned that through teaching and 360 learning activities, to promote national security education, in order to strengthen students’ knowledge of rule of law and nationalism. It is aimed to help students understand the importance of national security, elevate the sense of identity as a Chinese national. Other than national security, the related content can also help students understand the motherland’s culture and history, and the latest development, while deepening their knowledge on its constitution and basic law.
The curriculum framework also mentions that schools can take the primary and secondary curriculum as an example through classroom teaching and life-wide learning activities, which already require students to:
“know the names of the four criminal acts regulated by the Hong Kong National Security Law, recognize the people who protect us (that is, the police, medical care and PLA, the People’s Liberation Army)
“know the departments of the HK Government that enforce and uphold the rule of law (that is, the police force and the courts), understand that upholding law and order is the due responsibility of the government, know the origin of ‘one country, two systems’ and the Basic Law,” and so on.
Take the lower primary school curriculum, the framework already requires students to understand the names of the four main crimes under national security law, recognize the people who protect us such as the PLA, nurses, police, understand the various government departments that execute and protect the rule of law, such as police department and the court, understand protecting the rule of law is the government’s responsibility, understand the origins of one country two systems and basic law.
Universities have also reacted enthusiastically to the scheme proposed by the EDB, to make the constitution, basic law, and national security a crucial part of their university curriculum.
Last September, students at Baptist University of Hong Kong had been required to study and pass the newly implemented, compulsory national security module in order to graduate. The Chinese University of Hong Kong (CUHK) is also planning to enlist national security courses as a compulsory requirement for students to graduate.