In neoliberal contexts, schools are accountable for educational quality, and effectiveness is measured by objective indicators, such as examination scores. Schools tend to become committed to preparing students for examinations rather than all-round and complete personal development, making it difficult for students to identify the meaningful connections between themselves and learning activities, and, in turn, resulting in negative learning experiences. Marxist theorists refer to this condition as alienated learning, that is, the internal contradiction between the learner’s self and learning labour. In contrast, curricular reforms across the globe have promoted a progressive pedagogy that values engaging students in the full range of life experiences in education, enabling them to overcome alienated learning. Yet the effects of curricular reforms are still unclear. The present study sheds light on the extent to which reforms permit students to confront alienated learning. To achieve this aim, the study investigated 44 Hong Kong secondary and undergraduate students with photovoice methods. Its findings suggest that the effects of these curricular reforms are minimal, though they offer opportunities for students to explore their interests. Many students will still experience alienated learning; their interests continue to be subordinated to examinations and even devalued by their schools and teachers. Copyright © 2022 The Author(s).