The liberal studies DSE was neither easy not difficult this year. None of the questions asked about a particular political event despite many controversial issues happening last year, teachers and students reveal.
Paper one consisted of three compulsory questions asking students about contemporary topics, including ethnic minority groups in Hong Kong, China's rural-urban disparity and environmental problems, and a comparison between Hong Kong and Singapore's quality of life. In paper two, students chose one out of three questions covering “fast fashion”, e-cigarettes and traditional wet markets.
Even though Q3 of paper one mentioned the political and social conditions in both Hong Kong and Singapore, neither paper one nor two specialised in a political event. This contrasted with last year's paper one, which covered the composition of the chief executive Election Committee and the Legislative Council.
Asked whether the Hong Kong government exerted pressure to avoid questions discussing political issues in the exam papers, secondary school liberal studies teacher and executive committee member from the Hong Kong Professional Teachers' Union (HKPTU), Fong King-lok, said liberal studies does not necessarily specialise in politics.
"Exam setters considered whether the topics were controversial and whether they were applicable to daily life. This year's exam paper covered many topics students are familiar with. Some questions like Q2(b) in paper two - asking whether banning the sale of certain products is the best way to safeguard young people's public health - involved legislation and can be a political topic too. I believe the exam setters are professional," said Fong.
Q3(b) in paper one provided a happiness graph of Hong Kong and Singapore and asked students which two dimensions of the city’s quality of life need to be tackled first.
Fong said there were two methods to answer the question. "The first way is to find the lowest mean happiness - housing and political and social conditions - from the graphs. Another way is to look for the biggest gaps in mean happiness between Hong Kong and Singapore - housing and environmental conditions. Then students should explain why they made the choices," he said.
Secondary school liberal studies teacher and HKPTU vice-president, Cheung Yui-fai, said the exam fulfilled its educational aim to advocate the awareness of current affairs.
"The topics covered all six modules with many evaluating identity, equality and quality of life. Most topics were closely related to students' daily lives," Cheung said.
But Young Post junior reporter Vanessa Jim, a form six student from St Clare’s Girls’ School, said the exam was challenging as the topics were not popular. "I don't think many students knew about the situation in Singapore. Also, wet markets and e-cigarettes were not covered by some schools. I had difficulties interpreting the sources and using 'real-life situations' in my answers," she said.
Vanessa said the types of questions were different compared to previous years. "Questions are so-called 'open-ended', but they limited us to answer in a specific way. For example, Q2(c) asked us to suggest and explain one argument supporting and opposing the statement ‘relocating the rural poor can reduce poverty in China.’ It was worth seven marks but I think it's quite heavy as we had to answer both sides." She added that past papers didn’t ask to cover both sides of an argument.
H. Y. Fung, a liberal studies tutor at Modern Education, told Young Post some students may have had difficulty answering Q3(a) in paper one as they needed to make a comparison between Singapore and Hong Kong. "Questions involving comparisons are never easy, and this question even tested students' abilities to discuss another city, which is much harder. They may not understand what role the Singaporean government played in its housing issues - building public housing flats for its citizens," revealed Fung.
Cheung added there were many sources provided in paper one, so students need to mange their time well. "Students needed to interpret, tidy up and find the important features from the sources. It's very time-consuming," he said.