Implementation of NSS Liberal Studies Curriculum: A Comprehensive Study
06 Jul 2012
Liberal Studies (abbreviated as LS below) becomes one of the core NSS curricula since 2009. Along with the completion of the Hong Kong Diploma of Secondary Education Examination (HKDSEE) which has marked the end of the first 3-year cycle of curriculum implementation, it is the prime time to conduct a holistic review of this new curriculum. The Faculty of Education at the University of Hong Kong has been providing teacher education courses on LS since 2005. Early this year, four core members of teaching staff on LS, namely Dr. Eva Chan, Dr. Loretta Ho, Mr. Wong Ka Lok and Dr. Tammy Kwan, have formed a research team to conduct a comprehensive and systematic review of the design, implementation and effectiveness of LS in schools. The research team hoped to obtain a true picture by fixing the findings of different research phases. The findings would inform the kind of support that can be provided to schools, teachers and students by strengthening our teacher education courses.
The holistic review consists of six phases: 1) Fundamental study; 2) In-depth interview with teachers; 3) Quality of teaching and learning materials; 4) Students’ beliefs about LS; 5) Classroom implementation; 6) University teachers’ perceptions of LS. The current research findings belong to Phase One study. The study did not aim to draw any conclusions from the findings. Rather, it aimed to collect basic information about the school policies, teachers’ understanding of the curriculum, their views on the usage of textbooks and school-based curriculum materials, their opinions on the assessment modes, as well as their worries and achievements. All these findings would open deep investigations in the other five important phases. The study was administered in the form of a questionnaire survey. School principals, LS panel chairpersons and teachers from 66 secondary schools participated in the survey. Below is a summary of the important findings based on the 366 questionnaires collected.
A. School Policy
Revealed from the questionnaire data, both Principals and LS Subject Heads are positive about the curriculum organization of LS subject and the competence of teachers in teaching LS at their schools. Regarding the workload of LS teachers, they tend to be neutral. As with the principles of allocating LS teachers, they would mainly focus on “teacher’s willingness”, “teacher’s training in LS” as well as “teacher’s teaching experience in humanities subjects”. The research team also notes that school heads have paid much attention to continuous teacher professional training. Therefore, teachers would be encouraged to attend courses provided by EDB, local universities as well as NGOs.
On such a controversial issue as MOI policy, school heads come to their decisions in the middle of a number of factors. Analysis of their responses to the questionnaire reveals three of the most important factors, in order of importance: students’ general language competence, consistency with the general MOI policy of the school, and teachers’ general language competence.
To improve the implementation of LS curriculum, both Principals and LS Subject Heads recognize the importance of the following aspects: clarification about the requirements of the Curriculum and Assessment in detail, fund and resources in support of curriculum development, small-class teaching, provision of learning materials, bridging between junior and senior secondary levels, effective use of strategies of catering for individual differences, teacher’s professional training and collegial support, students’ general language competence and their learning motivation.
B. Interpretation of the Curriculum
Based on a professional interpretation of the LS curriculum, years of involvement in LS teacher education as well as over a thousand LS lesson observations, the research team has developed 13 key components for guiding the LS curriculum and instructional design. These 13 key components have been used to assess teachers’ competence in understanding, organizing and designing LS curriculum. In this questionnaire survey, teachers are asked to rank the relative importance of applying these key components in their curriculum and instructional design. The graph below shows the results.
C. Teaching and Learning Materials: Use of Textbooks
Unlike other subjects, LS does not get its textbooks inspected and approved by Education Bureau before they become available in the market. This should have encouraged teachers to develop their school-based curriculum materials. However, a majority of schools have been using textbooks in teaching and learning. Our analysis shows that, although teachers’ comments on textbooks are a little better than neutral, they use textbooks in order to align themselves with the curriculum and to assure a reasonable coverage of some significant issues and key concepts. A good means providing students with background information and fundamental knowledge, textbooks also satisfy the general expectation of parents and students. Moreover, teachers use textbooks as a source of learning activities and teaching aids. Textbooks not only save teachers’ preparation time and workload, but also take away teachers’ worries about copyright. Meanwhile, teachers have concerns with the timeliness of the issues suggested by textbooks and with the appropriateness of the learning activities included in textbooks to cater for individual differences.
D. Teaching and Learning Materials: Use of School-based Curriculum Materials
Teams and networks of teachers are preparing their own school-based curriculum materials that are used alongside widely-used textbooks. The Internet, as the most readily available source for LS teachers, supplemented by other sources such as, in order of popularity, EDB, HKEdCity, NGOs, and school networks, provide teachers with a range of curriculum materials and lesson ideas. As compared with textbooks, school-based curriculum materials are considered as better in the sense that they not only cover important knowledge and concepts, but also encourage student-centred discussion, collaboration and interaction, and thus enhance students’ capacity to take on multiple perspectives in an enquiry. All these make teachers believe that school-based curriculum materials should fit better the spirit of LS. Teachers also recognize the strengths of school-based curriculum materials in their flexibility which in turn is crucial to catering for individual differences. About seventy percent of respondent teachers (including Subject Heads) have subject panel meetings to work on the school-based curriculum materials, and about 30% of them have acquired professional support from outside in this process. Nevertheless, more than 60% of them also indicated that they had not received any training in making use of school-based curriculum materials. Even though the teachers are more positive about school-based curriculum materials than textbooks, many of them expressed their concerns with the increased workload in preparing such materials.
E. Assessment Modes
Consistent with the rationale of Liberal Studies, schools generally adopted multi-dimensional assessment. As compared with the assessment design at schools, teachers reported a comparatively negative view towards the assessment modes adopted in the public examination. Teachers expressed that the assessment modes adopted by public examination were not aligned with the overall rationale of LS. The discrepancies included the narrow scope of the assessment modes adopted by the public examination which could neither truly reflect the abilities of the students nor allow students to exhibit their multiple intelligences. Some students chose to use the traditional rote learning mode to cope with the public examination. It seems to have violated the spirit of LS which advocates issue-enquiry, and the ability to think independently, critically and from multiple perspectives. Based on the findings, teachers seemed to be frustrated most by the inconsistent marking criteria. This lowered the confidence of teachers in helping students to get good examination results. In addition, the great amount of supervision and marking due to Independent Enquiry Study had added heavy workload and pressure on teachers. In short, striking the right and feasible balance among examination results, students’ interest, the admission approaches of universities, and the future of LS, has caused various concerns of teachers.
Despite the worries and difficulties, many respondent teachers were able to identify achievements of their own and their students.
- Better understanding and interpretation of the curriculum;
- Enhanced personal professional development and self-learning ability;
- Enhanced confidence in teaching;
- More respect for students’ ideas;
- Becoming more open-minded, independent and liberated in teaching;
- Stronger collaboration and more trust among team members;
- Rich resource bank being set up;
- Trust relation with students being established.
- Broader knowledge base;
- Enhanced critical thinking and multiple perspectives;
- Sensitivity to current affairs;
- More care for the world;
- Improved behaviours.
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