Mainland editorial stokes anger over national education
Dennis Chong and Thomas Chan
A newspaper closely aligned with a Communist Party mouthpiece has forcefully defended the subject of national education in Hong Kong schools as a 'model for China' - fuelling activists' suspicions it will be a 'brainwashing' tool.
The Chinese edition of the Global Times, which is owned by the People's Daily, ran an editorial yesterday saying it was meaningless to discuss whether the subject - set to be implemented next month - should exist. The paper said national education lessons would even help Hongkongers adapt to life after the handover, and that opponents of the policy were 'brainwashed by the West' and were wrong to brand the subject a tool for indoctrination.
'It helps Hong Kong people to adapt to the environment after the handover,' it said. 'The subject will definitely not become [mainland-style] political lessons ... Nowadays, it is almost impossible to 'brainwash' people on the mainland, and even harder for Hong Kong people.'
The editorial was interpreted as reflecting Beijing's view on the issue.
Activists including Joshua Wong Chi-fung, a leader of student lobby group Scholarism, said the Global Times' comments were proof the subject advanced the central government's political agenda.
The government intends national education for primary and secondary students to instil national pride, but critics say the curriculum gives a one-sided view of the Chinese political system.
The Global Times editorial said the classes should take account of the 'realistic circumstances' of Hong Kong society: 'If this can be handled well, it can become a model for both the mainland and Hong Kong.'
Political analyst James Sung Lap-kung said the editorial took into account Hongkongers' concerns and recognised the weight of lobbying and protests by local activists.
'It means things ... can be done the Hong Kong way,' Sung said.
Meanwhile, wrangling among parents' and teachers' groups intensified. Linda Wong, a member of a parents' group that helped organise a mass protest on Sunday against national education, accused the Federation of Parent-Teacher Associations, a district-level group which advises the government on policy, of not listening to opposing views.
'Parents are angry because they don't understand why [the federation's] opinion should represent and override the opinions of every other, especially those who participated in the protest,' she said.
After a meeting with Education Bureau officials, Stephen Kai, head of the federation's Kwun Tong chapter, said the majority of members opposed a boycott of lessons. 'Representatives of 17 of the 18 federations expressed opposition [to a] boycott.'
Yau Tsim Mong federation representative Lee See-yin said the representatives had voiced their personal opinion, given parents were divided over the call for a boycott.
The Professional Teachers' Union has passed a resolution urging teachers to boycott classes on September 3, the first day of the school year, if the government doesn't withdraw the subject, but few have openly supported the call. Yesterday, Yan Chai Hospital, a school sponsoring body, said it opposed the boycott.
Executive Council convenor Lam Woon-kwong said its proponents should think twice, as it would have far-reaching consequences and parents would not favour their children or teachers missing classes.