Hard and "soft" policy for the school curriculum: The changing role of teachers in the "learning to learn" reform

Kin Sang Jacqueline CHAN, Kerry John KENNEDY, Ping Kwan FOK

Research output: Contribution to conferencePapers


The control of curriculum content has been a sensitive issue in the Hong Kong school curriculum. During the colonial period, the Hong Kong Government controlled the curriculum content in various subjects, for example, by excluding knowledge concerning modern China or prohibiting overtly political material from being part of the curriculum. By law, the use of text, instructional materials and any forms of classroom instructions were prohibited except in accordance with a syllabus approved by the authority. The use of legal structures to force compliance has been termed “hard policy” since there are legal implications for non-compliance. After 1997, however, the government has given teachers a much more direct role in curriculum reform and renewal through the selection of school-based teaching materials in various key learning areas. This role has been given to teachers through a series of what might be called “soft” policy innovations where the innovations do not have the force of law but their success depend on teachers’ professional decisions more than on persuasion. With such an approach, the role of teachers has experienced vital shift, i.e., instead of being technicians teaching the prescribed texts, teachers are expected to be autonomous professionals in carrying out classroom instructions. The shift is dramatic, as teachers are used to the prescribed textbooks in their classroom teaching. The paper aims to analyze such a shift through the perspectives of government policy and its expected role of teachers. It also argues that political considerations, rather than the instructional needs of the classroom, have significant influence on the Hong Kong curriculum traditionally, resulting in neglect of teachers’ professional development and their autonomy in making instructional decisions. The move from the “hard” to the “soft” policy requires further clarification and communication between the government and the front line teachers.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - 2005


Chan, K.-S. J., Kennedy, K. J., & Fok, P.-K. (2005, December). "Hard" and "soft" policy for the school curriculum: The changing role of teachers in the "learning to learn" reform. Paper presented at Faculty of Education of CUHK 40th Anniversary International Conference: Developing Teacher Leadership and Education Partnership in the Face of Education Reform, The Chinese University of Hong Kong, China.


  • Hard policy
  • Soft policy
  • Teachers' role


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