National education needs impartiality

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 17 May, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 17 May, 2012, 12:00am
 

The need for younger generations to understand more about their country is universal. Some of our neighbouring countries have long included national education in their curriculums. It makes sense for Hong Kong to do the same, especially since the city has been reunified with China for almost 15 years. But this is easier said than done. Having been raised by the British under a different system, many have yet to develop a true sense of identity with the rest of the country. When national education is to become compulsory in schools, it raises concerns whether it is tantamount to brainwashing students with communist Ideology.

Announcing a revised curriculum on moral and national education after months of consultation, the committee in charge of introducing it sought to assuage fears that the government would dictate what to learn. The approach, according to the committee, will be to stimulate students' critical thinking. While some may find this reassuring, the impression given by the curriculum guide is apparently different. Apart from the need to nurture one's national identity, students have to learn about state leaders and understand their 'efforts, contribution and difficulties encountered' at work. It is not difficult to see why the subject has been interpreted by critics as political indoctrination.

Officials have argued that the exclusion of sensitive issues such as the June 4 crackdown and the suppression of civil right lawyers on the mainland allows teachers more flexibility in choosing what to teach. Following that logic, it can be argued that the fewer the guidelines, the better, and the government might as well drop the 181-page guidelines to give teachers and students more freedom. The exclusion of these sensitive issues may be taken by teachers as a signal that they remain political taboos in classrooms.

There is nothing wrong with enhancing youngsters' understanding of the nation as long as key developments and defining events are not distorted or omitted. Patriotism and national identity are qualities to be nurtured rather than spoon-fed. Gradually, Hongkongers have developed a stronger national identity, a sense of solidarity and pride in the country's achievements. But at the same time people feel ashamed about its record when it comes to democracy and civil liberties. They care about the country and want to see a better China.

The education chief has rightly pointed out that students should not be just taught the 'bright side' of China. A true sense of belonging is cultivated through a thorough understanding of the country's achievements as well as its deficiencies. National education should not be a tool to tame the people but an opportunity to question, explore and foster a broad understanding of a country, because, in the end, education creates the soul of a nation.

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