National studies course runs into more opposition
The row over national education deepened as more political heavyweights and a former official added their voices yesterday to those opposing introduction of the controversial course in September.
Three eminent Hongkongers asked the government yesterday to listen to public opinion on the issue. They were former health secretary Elizabeth 'Libby' Wong Chien Chi-lien, the Federation of Trade Unions' (FTU) Chan Yuen-han, and Liberal Party chairwoman Miriam Lau Kin-yee.
At least two others, however, said there was no need to shelve the course: former director of education Helen Lai Yu and Regina Ip Lau Suk-yee, chairwoman of the New People's Party.
Wong, speaking at a book launch at the Hong Kong Book Fair, blasted the national education programme as 'a waste of time'.
'To be patriotic is not just about singing the national anthem or learning history,' she said. If you want students 'to be patriotic, why not let them learn more about different things and contribute to the country [when opportunities come]?'
She hoped the government would listen to the opinion of parents and 'think again whether to bulldoze it through'.
The government said in April that primary schools would be able to introduce national education this September, while secondary schools could do so in September next year. The subject is due to become compulsory in primary schools in 2015 and secondary schools in 2016.
Meanwhile, the debate continued to develop as an issue in the campaign for September's legislative election. Beijing-loyalist candidate Chan Yuen-han, honorary chief of the FTU, vowed to lobby the government to stop pushing the introduction of national education.
'I promise to talk to officials to say ... [national education] is a policy of the previous government, not the current one, so [officials] should be objective,' Chan said on a radio programme. 'There is a need for national education ... but if it is only telling the good but not the bad things, I definitely oppose it.' Her opinion was personal, she said, since the FTU had not met to discuss the issue.
Two candidates with the government-loyalist Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong - Starry Lee Wai-king and Lau Kong-wah - said schools should decide for themselves whether to introduce the subject in September.
Those calling for the course to be dropped included the Liberals' Miriam Lau. 'We think national education can be introduced, but it must not be biased,' she said. 'Since some teaching materials were criticised to be biased or even 'brainwashing', I think it is too rushed to introduce it in September.' Lau will lodge a petition with the Education Bureau today calling for a postponement.
Regina Ip, a rival of Lau's in the Hong Kong Island constituency, said: 'the government should leave it to the schools to decide [whether to implement national education] ... most countries have [national education], and [the debate is concerned] only with implementation problems.'
Former director of education Helen Lai said she did not think the government was bulldozing through the introduction of national education, saying: 'We should give the new government time to do its job.'
Meanwhile, Education Secretary Eddie Ng Hak-kim posted a Chinese-language article on his bureau's website defending national education, saying it was designed to help students learn and build good character.
Chief Secretary Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor called for opponents of national education to 'give schools some space' to launch the course. She denied the subject was brainwashing, saying it would develop critical, independent thinking.