School tells pupils they have to march
A Buddhist secondary school in the New Territories tried to compel Form One pupils to join Saturday's rally in favour of the government's electoral reform proposals.
But, faced with pressure from parents, the school later decided to make participation in the rally, organised by pro-Beijing groups, voluntary.
MFBM Chan Lui Chung Tak Memorial College in Tin Shui Wai said participation was part of the new secondary curriculum and was intended to enhance pupils' 'civic sense and show care about Hong Kong's development'.
In a circular which only gives parents' the option to agree, the school said it had arranged a 'For universal suffrage, support political reform' campaign for students this Saturday in Victoria Park at 3pm.
The event coincides with the rally planned by the Alliance for Constitutional Development led by executive councillor Cheng Yiu-tong.
'This activity will be counted as 'other learning experiences' (OLE) in the new curriculum and therefore participation is essential,' the circular, issued yesterday, said.
Form Four pupils must complete 405 hours of OLE in the three years before they graduate from Form Six.
The reply slip, which required a signature from parents, reads : 'I agree to allow my child to participate in the ... activity.'
It also asked parents to indicate if they would join the march, but did not give them the option to say no to their children's participation.
The circular drew wide attention after it was circulated on the internet yesterday.
The school was not available for comment. But in a release posted on its website at around 6pm yesterday, principal Grace Kwok Lau Lai-ying said attendance would now be 'voluntary' because of the 'difference in opinions among parents' on the activity.
'Participation in the event won't be counted towards the OLE credits,' the release said.
The school's move comes after a flurry of media reports last week accusing pro-Beijing parties of offering cash allowances and subsidised meals to coax more people to join the rally on Saturday in support of the government's reform proposals.
District councillors representing the Tin Shui Wai constituency described the school's actions as incredible.
A spokesman for the Education Bureau said participation in a demonstration was not a learning event but a 'behaviour that shows leanings'.
'When organising OLEs for students, schools should let students make their own judgment ... forcing students to participate in a demonstration deprives them of their personal will,' the spokesman said.
Education lawmaker Cheung Man-kwong said schools should never ask pupils to take sides in political activities.
'Participation should be optional. It's unacceptable that a student will lose marks for OLE by not participating,' Cheung said.