Leung tries to placate angry parents
Ng Kang-chung and Tanna Chong
The chief executive yesterday sought to reassure the thousands of people who demonstrated against national education on Sunday, as a survey showed that the issue has damaged many Hongkongers' view of their new government.
Nearly 47 per cent of respondents said their confidence in the government of Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying had been weakened by its handling of the national education dispute. Only 4.5 per cent said their confidence was boosted as a result.
Conducted between Wednesday and Friday last week by Chinese University's Hong Kong Institute of Asia-Pacific Studies, the poll interviewed 863 people by phone.
Reacting to Sunday's march, Leung said yesterday he understood the depth of parents' concerns, given 'their participation in the march in hot weather under a burning sun'. Tens of thousands of parents and others took part in Sunday's protest march against the new school course.
National education, to be introduced to primary schools voluntarily from September, aims to boost knowledge of and attachment to the nation. Critics are calling it brainwashing, concerned that the new course will mimic patriotic education on the mainland.
Leung said the Education Bureau planned to upload reference materials on the controversial subject to resolve 'brainwashing' worries.
'We decided to upload the reference materials related to contemporary China for the public's scrutiny, upon consultation with the new committee announced by the chief secretary yesterday,' Leung said.
'I hope parents will understand we have no intention of brainwashing.'
He said the course was inherited from the previous administration.
'I would not force the [implementation of] national education,' said Leung.
But some parents', students' and teachers' groups were not satisfied.
A core member of the National Education Parents Concern Group, Stanley So, said: 'Our concerns are about the content of the teaching resources and the content of the government guidelines. I do not see how posting them on the web could address our concerns.'
The Professional Teachers Union, which is planning a strike to protest against the national education course, yesterday rejected Leung's offer. 'Our demand is very simple and straightforward. It is scrapping the subject,' said union spokesman Fong King-lok.
A similar view was given by Tommy Cheung Sau-yin of Scholarism - a secondary school students' group that opposes the national education course. Cheung said: 'Mr Leung only tried to avoid the question.'
The poll also asked respondents if their confidence in the new administration was strengthened by its initiatives to improve people's livelihoods. About 62.2 per cent replied 'no'.
If the survey found a bright area for the government, it was on the issue of illegal structures, which has dogged Leung and some ministers. Fifty-seven per cent said the issue had not affected their confidence in the government. The margin of error was 3.34 per cent.