Report card on HK reforms still mixed

Report card on HK reforms still mixed
Students at Pooi To Middle School in Kowloon City role-play during a liberal studies class, aimed at fostering creative and analytical thinking.

HONG KONG - It's Wednesday afternoon and a class of 15-year-olds at Pooi To Middle School are pondering a big question.

How should "individual rights" be balanced against "societal harmony" as Hong Kong considers allowing drug testing of suspected users in the street, a policy now under public consultation?

A pony-tailed girl bounces to the front of the class and says: "We should draw the line at testing those aged below 12, and only those from the narcotics force - not all cops - should be allowed to do the checks."

After the class, a student giggles and lets on that there is a "set formula" to answering such questions in the new liberal studies exam that is aimed, ironically, at fostering independent and creative thinking.

Sixteen-year-old Chung Ching Fong, already a veteran at acing the subject, says you need an answer with a "3+1+1" structure - three positive agreements, one opposing contention and a final exposition to refute the preceding one.

Meanwhile, tuition centres across the city are doing brisk business imparting exam techniques for the subject, taught at senior secondary level. "You have to memorise these key points and where to put in this four-paragraph formula," tutor Catherine Lui from the Modern Education chain tells her class at a Tuesday night session.

"For all topics related to Hong Kong's democratic development, societal development, political reform and conflict between the mainland and Hong Kong, adopt this same formula."

Speaking to The Sunday Times, she scoffs at the idea that liberal studies are about creative thinking. "The government is too idealistic," she says. "Exams are about scoring points, always about higher scores."

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