National education 'risks poll backlash'
Adrian Wan and Gary Cheung
The government would be foolhardy to 'steamroll ahead' with its plan to start teaching national education this year because the issue might blow up in its face, a leading Basic Law specialist and mainland adviser warned.
Basic Law Institute chairman Alan Hoo SC, a member of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference, said the introduction of the subject should be suspended for a year as the course's content needed a thorough rethink.
'It would be foolhardy if the administration continued to steamroll ahead with their current strategy,' Hoo said.
The government wants schools to start teaching the subject voluntarily this year before it becomes compulsory in primary schools in 2015 and secondary schools in 2016. The government believes the subject will instil national pride in students, but critics say it gives a one-sided view of the Chinese political system.
Hoo, who said he spoke on behalf of the institute rather than as a CPPCC member because the Basic Law defined the relationship between Hong Kong and Beijing, said the plan was being used as a political issue that could cost the government votes in next month's Legislative Council election. A crowd estimated at up to 90,000 took to the streets last Sunday in protest at the plans.
The present plans were 'allowing and encouraging the subject to descend into the political arena', Hoo said. He dismissed a government proposal for a committee to examine how the subject would be taught, saying a body established 'just to appease people will not work' .
'You need to have a new conceptual review before you talk about implementation. It's not complicated science,' he said.
Ho said the committee should also study ways to fill the void left by the absence of a Chinese history course in many schools, because 'many incidents against dissidents, for instance the Tiananmen crackdown, are matters of which history should be the judge'.
Chinese history ceased to be a compulsory subject in primary and secondary schools in 2001.
Hoo said there should be no controversy over the existence of national education because 'it exists everywhere in the world'. But the curriculum should include 'factual' content like 'the country's size, flag, and anthem, the size of the population and the languages they speak, and their culture, things like that'.
It should also teach 'very traditional, universal stuff' about 'the structure of the state, the geography, natural resources, history and culture', Hoo said.
'It's not meant to be an indoctrination. There is not supposed to be editorial bias, either for or against the central government.'
Executive councillor Anna Wu Hung-yuk said yesterday that officials and fellow Exco members were looking at the topic flexibly.
'While there is no change to the government's position on the introduction of national education, many friends of mine commented to me recently that the government should call the subject ethics study or civic education, which we already have had for many years, rather than calling it national education,' she said. 'I understand their sentiment.'
Wu, who is known for her liberal stance, said she appreciated the fact that many parents opposed the introduction of national education because of their concern for freedom of thought.
'The scientific approach for teaching the subject is telling students objective facts and teaching them to form their own judgment, rather than resorting to emotive responses,' she said.