National education must be impartial
When teaching materials intended to enhance a deeper understanding of the country end up singing praises to people in power, when education groups with clear political inclinations are given public funds to spoon-feed patriotism, teachers and parents can be excused for feeling outraged and worried about school children being 'brainwashed' in the name of national education.
Most Hongkongers grew up in a system totally different from that on the mainland, and any attempt to strengthen a sense of national identity and better appreciation of the nation's achievements is likely to be viewed with scepticism. So when the government decided to make national education a compulsory subject in primary and secondary school by 2015 and 2016 respectively, it was to be expected that the move stoked more fear than support.
Although there is no evidence to suggest schools in future will be given biased teaching materials like those published by the Beijing-friendly National Education Service Centre, the recent controversy shows that concerns over political indoctrination are not unfounded. The centre's booklet portrays centralised political power such as that enjoyed by the communists as 'selfless' government that contributes to stability, while the multiparty politics of the Western world may cause conflict and 'victimise' the people.
Writing textbooks to glorify communist rule is a clear departure from the declared objective of giving students multifaceted knowledge about the nation. The education chief has rightly criticised some of the content for being biased. But it is disappointing that the publisher has maintained there is nothing wrong, adding that it would be political censorship and a breach of academic freedom if the book was banned.
Equally disturbing is the way the group has obtained millions in government funding for years without being noticed by other education groups. Questions have to be asked why other groups are apparently not given the same access.
The reunification has given rise to the need for promoting better understanding of the country and a stronger national identity. Admittedly, a recent survey which shows people's sense of Chinese identity dropping to a 13-year low warrants some soul-searching. But there is a clear distinction between national education and indoctrination. According to government guidelines, emphasis is put on the development of students' independent and critical thinking.
As long as the achievements and inadequacies of the country and the rulers are presented impartially for students to make an informed judgment, national education remains a right step forward.