Mainland study tours should be reviewed regularly to enhance learning outcomes

Recently, some local educators expressed reservations over the one to two days’ duration of study tours to the Chinese mainland — an integral part of the new Hong Kong Diploma of Secondary Education (DSE) examination’s subject of Citizenship and Social Development (CSD). 

The subject was changed from Liberal Studies (LS) at the Education Bureau’s (EDB’s) professional-led judgment in April 2021 following a task force’s recommendation to optimize LS. Along with the EDB’s monthlong consultation in February 2021 over curriculum changes in the other three senior secondary core subjects — Chinese, English and mathematics — the resetting of the LS subject simplified its content, brought in a solid knowledge foundation, refined its teaching materials and assessment arrangement, and renamed the subject. The modifications were intended to “create space for students to learn in a focused way and recognize their learning outcomes through public assessment”.

Under this underlying rationale for its curriculum and assessment reform, the original LS subject, which was introduced in the 2021-22 school year for Secondary Four students as a core subject of CSD, has been revised to comprise three main themes — the home country, the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region, and the contemporary world. Students will be evaluated in a shortened time span, and only graded “attained” or “not attained” at the DSE examination, but not by the current seven-point grading system. Topics and issues covered in class are to be dealt with by teachers based on impartial solid background knowledge rather than polarized arguments.

Featuring as a distinct variation from the former LS subject, the CSD encompasses subsidized mainland study tours to be provided by the EDB that started earlier this month, initially to Secondary Five students, to enable them to understand correctly different facets of the motherland and its vision of development through firsthand experience. On the understanding that each senior secondary student is eligible for a one-off tour subsidy, the EDB has developed for the first batch of mainland visiting students over 20 itineraries that last one to three days and focus on different cultural, historical, economic and technological contexts. Students’ performances in the mainland education component will not count toward their DSE grades, but schools should strongly advise students to participate in the study tours to gain a firsthand understanding of the mainland’s latest developments. This facet was relayed by Chief Secretary for Administration Eric Chan Kwok-ki to senior secondary students in selecting their higher education routes and career paths before the Secondary Five students boarded a Guangzhou-bound high-speed train at the West Kowloon railway terminus. Chan added that the HKSAR government will have organized by the end of the current school year more than 40,000 students to enthusiastically join visits to places of educational interest.

When the CSD confirmed its offering as a core subject in 2021, then-vice-minister of education Song Demin was reported to have indicated support for the curriculum reforms of the core subjects that would free up 100 to 250 lesson hours for a “diversified and flexible curriculum” and at the same time foster strong national identity and patriotism among the younger generation. He expressed the hope that “there can be better results in strengthening education on China’s Constitution, the Basic Law, as well as on national education, Chinese history and culture”.

The EDB has lost no time in firming up details for continuous implementation of the CSD curriculum in schools, with professional advice on whether the teaching contents and strategies are in congruence with the curriculum aims and objectives of the subject. In addition to the paramountcy of the strong sense of national identity and belonging built up among young students through participation in the study tours, Secretary for Education Christine Choi Yuk-lin has repeatedly stressed the substantial benefits of travel to the mainland for students’ future educational advancement and career pursuits. She likened these to the vital safety guiding impact generated by a powerful lighthouse for passing ships. In the early stages of this student educational travel program under her leadership, Choi urged students to engage with this precious study opportunity across the border and to actively apply the firsthand knowledge acquired about the mainland to their school curriculums and extracurricular activities, which will have a crucial bearing on their attainments in adulthood.

On the question of the most suitable duration of these study trips, there does not seem to be a magic number of days that determines the ideal running of these educational tours. It hinges on the comprehensiveness of the preparations prior to the participating students and their supervising teachers setting off for the mainland destinations. As Choi has said, a one-day study journey can yield a substantial positive outcome if it is well-planned, prepared and conducted precisely following the subject’s aims and objectives. Commencing this educational travel program with long trips may not be the best way to roll it out since it may not allow very swift reviews of the itineraries and the pertinent implementation details to be mounted, a step which is of great importance to ensuring heightened effectiveness of upcoming mainland tours for students. It follows logically and necessarily that inquisitive evaluations should be carried out right after the first batch of mainland group tours finishes, a move that will unveil valuable organizing, logistical and learning experiences that can be incorporated into future tours to yield enhanced learning outcomes from the travel program. There is hardly any denting in the community’s high hopes for the positive effects to be cultivated by the mainland study program, and this desired result will only emerge with full cooperation among stakeholders — school leaderships, teachers, parents, students, and the HKSAR government. Let’s unite to maximize our students’ educational well-being and their sense of nationhood as Chinese people — qualities of decisive significance for their up-and-coming sharing of the role to contribute to the motherland’s rejuvenation.

The author is a member of the Chinese Association of Hong Kong and Macao Studies, and chairman of the Hong Kong Education Policy Concern Organisation.

The views do not necessarily reflect those of China Daily.