Hong Kong's university entrance exam question triggers outcry, exposes education flaws

Hong Kong's education system is in the spotlight again over a question in the history exam for Hong Kong's university admissions concerning Japan's invasion of China.

Hong Kong’s education system is in the spotlight again over a question in the history exam for Hong Kong’s university admissions concerning Japan’s invasion of China during the first half of the 20th century, causing a public outcry.

The Hong Kong Diploma of Secondary Education exam had a question about whether Japan did more good than harm in China between 1900 and 1945, asking examinees to express and support their opinion taking reference to the two listed excerpts and their knowledge.

One of the excerpts was a 1905 article by a Japanese educator describing the arrangement to teach Chinese students law and politics. The other excerpt cited parts of a 1912 letter from a then Chinese revolutionary leader to a Japanese politician seeking financial help, as well as a one-year loan contract in 1912 by a Japanese firm to China.

“The question is extremely inappropriate,” said Chan Wai-keung, a faculty member of the Hong Kong Polytechnic University. “It is similar to asking students in Western countries whether Adolf Hitler did more good than harm in Europe.”

Chan said the materials mentioned nothing about the catastrophic consequences of Japan’s invasion of China, seriously misguiding students and violating academic standards.

Ting Kong-ho, a history teacher and a Hong Kong Federation of Education Workers’ committee member, said the biased materials made it difficult for pupils to answer the question from the “no” perspective.

The Japanese invasion of China from 1931 to 1945 was one of China’s darkest periods in history, with more than 35 million Chinese soldiers and civilians killed or injured.

Following public criticism, the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region government expressed grave concerns. The HKSAR’s Secretary of Education Kevin Yeung said on Friday that the test question might guide students to reach a biased conclusion and deviate from historical facts.

“We will request that the Hong Kong Examinations and Assessment Authority invalidate the question and make appropriate adjustments to ensure the examination’s credibility and effectiveness.”

Experts said the incident is just the tip of the iceberg and called on the government to channel more energy into supervising teachers’ behavior and ensure that teachers observe professional ethics.

Teachers falsifying historical facts and giving incorrect information to students has been a problem in Hong Kong.

Last month, a teacher from a primary school was reported for deliberately lecturing a class that the Opium War, a war of aggression by Britain against China in 1840, was started as a British attempt to ban opium smoking in China.

Gu Minkang, former deputy dean of the law school of City University of Hong Kong, said a major problem is that some educators in Hong Kong fail to maintain objectivity and neutrality in their teaching work.

Although it has been nearly 23 years since China resumed sovereignty over Hong Kong, national education has been absent. Chinese history has not been treated as an independent compulsory subject. Also, the so-called “liberal studies” which were initially designed to encourage students’ critical thinking and have been widely promoted, have descended into courses rampant with biased and selective materials, leading students into forming a negative view of the mainland.

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