Inside Stories

‘Grandfather’ of Liberal Studies?

Liberal Studies was introduced in the Hong Kong Advanced Level Examination in 1994 as an AS-level subject. It is now a core subject in the HKDSE. Mr Rex King had not only put forward the names of the six modules, but also written the LS syllabus himself in 1990.
Q: How did you design the AS Liberal Studies syllabus? 

Rex King: When AS levels were introduced, AS Liberal Studies was considered an important part of the new initiative and I, as the Senior Subject Officer, was very keen on the proposal. I had strong support from key members of the Secretariat and the School Examinations Board. Early on, after researching similar overseas syllabuses, I put forward the names of several modules and we eventually settled on six of these.

Then, in 1990, my boss said, ‘Go home for a year and produce a syllabus and sample papers.’ So, I worked from home while someone was appointed to take my place at the Authority. There was a small committee of half a dozen or so who monitored my work and they would usually come to my home once every fortnight. I would show them the work that I had done in the previous weeks and they would suggest modifications.

 Q: What’s special about Liberal Studies?
        Rex King: There is a level of sophistication in Liberal Studies. The reason why we introduced it was to try and break the tradition of rote memory. We also hoped to modify the undue specialisation in the S6 courses which at that time tended to be either pure science or pure arts. It was a very creative thing to do. The AS-level syllabus consisted only of questions. Eventually, to meet the objections of teachers, we added suggestions about how to tackle the issues in the form of footnotes.

 Another thing about Liberal Studies that was extremely important was that we assigned 20% of the subject marks to project work which we assessed centrally. That was breaking new ground.

When we came to do the marking schemes, I was determined from the start that there should be no marks for quoting facts, very similar to the present examination I think. You have to evaluate an issue and be able to understand the arguments for and against, and then give your own views and justify them. At the beginning, when numbers were small enough to make this possible, we held seminars for both candidates and teachers to explain and reinforce this basic philosophy.

The subject’s aims and objectives explain what is important for students: independent thinking, creative thinking, broadening their outlook by becoming familiar with what’s going in the world around them, and getting away from the specialised, narrow world of their other subjects.

To help teachers understand the new subject, the Authority issued a booklet to all of the schools introducing the subject and explaining its philosophy and methodology. Mr King did something that was a bit eccentric…

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