Small school takes a national stand
Dennis Chong and Ada Lee
An 'alternative' private primary school started last year by a mother for her two children will be incorporating the controversial subject of national education in its curriculum as it welcomes more pupils
Yeo Peck Leng, founder of the Almitas Academy, said she felt the subject was 'very important', teaching pupils to respect the country.
Yeo, from Singapore, who is the wife of executive councillor Bernard Chan, said the civic education she received as a student had built her sense of belonging to the country.
She felt the subject was necessary because 'this generation already thinks Hong Kong is a part of China'.
She said: 'My older son would ask me and his dad sometimes, why we would say 'going back to the mainland', when we travel.
'He said it's like as if we were going to a foreign place, while Hong Kong is a part of China. Hong Kong and the mainland are integrating, so there's an even greater need to learn about the country.' Private schools are not required to provide the subject, which is due to become compulsory in public primary schools in 2015 and in secondary schools in 2016.
Yeo's two sons were the first Almitas pupils last year and next month there will be 11 new pupils.
Their elder son Brandon, 12, will attend an international secondary school, while brother Bradley, nine, will remain at Almitas with his new schoolmates.
Yeo said she had always felt it was important to offer national education in the school, even before it became a heated topic, but did not formally incorporate it into the curriculum until more students joined.
She said Almitas focused on 'individualised teaching', and would take material from history books after studying government guidelines.
But national education would not be a stand-alone subject when the term starts next month.
She said it would be incorporated into Chinese language lessons, touching on the 'history and facts' and 'looking at the country from various points of view'. On sensitive issues, such as the Tiananmen crackdown, she said the school would need to study further to see whether inclusion was suitable.
Yeo added: 'We want to bring opportunities so education can be offered in a way that could be against the norm. We would like to take up challenges.'
The pupils are aged from six to 12, with about a third of them having special needs. Most are from Hong Kong, but some are also from the mainland, Korea and the United States.
Although the school emphasised parental involvement, Yeo said it accepted some students with working parents and was making special arrangements for them.
Staffing levels will remain the same, with two full-time language teachers and a few part-time ones.
The Christian school, which focuses on building character and teaching Bible-based values, is looking to expand.
It took several months to get the government permits required to operate at a temporary site, and Yeo said it would probably take more time to secure a permanent site.
Its current campus in a commercial building in North Point can accommodate only 30 pupils.
Controversy erupted when a Beijing loyalist group sent national education textbooks to various schools recently. Teachers, parents and school sponsoring bodies said the material was biased and could 'brainwash' pupils.
A rally organised by secondary school students, parents and the Professional Teachers' Union against national education attracted tens of thousands of protesters last month.