National Education

The Hong Kong government has sought since 2007 to introduce "national education" courses into primary and secondary school curriculum, aimed at strengthening students' "national identity awareness" and nurturing patriotism towards China. The programme has met with increasing public opposition in recent years, with many in Hong Kong seeing it as a brainwashing attempt by the Chinese Communist Party to suppress dissent. 

CommentInsight & Opinion

After the protests, time to assess national education

PUBLISHED : Friday, 14 September, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 14 September, 2012, 9:23am

Those opposed to national education have made their views plainly known. Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying has heard them and adjusted the government's rollout plan, removing an implementation date and troublesome parts of the teaching guidelines. That is still not enough for some students, parents and teachers, who remain sceptical of the arguments put as to why the curriculum cannot be scrapped. For them, two crucial matters have still not been addressed: bias and trust.

Their worry about bias relates to what gets taught and how it is done. Trust refers to how the government has gone about implementation and handled complaints. Authorities have done neither convincingly. Volunteerism, removing deadlines, expunging questionable teaching materials and cutting references to contemporary Chinese history from the guidelines are not enough for the remaining detractors.

They have a point. Leung and Chief Secretary Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor have said the policy was decided by the previous government after years of discussion, implying an unwillingness to significantly alter it. Calls for release of the results of a consultation process have been ignored. Schools that introduce the curriculum will continue to get special funding. There is a worry that schools, principals and teachers who remain opposed could be penalised or at a disadvantage.

Erasing these worries will be challenging but has to be done. The core elements of national education - teaching about Chinese history, culture and society - are important. Crucially, though, this has to be achieved objectively, through presenting a wide range of views and opinions. Hong Kong people need to know their country better.

An implementing committee chaired by a non-official member of the Executive Council, Anna Wu Hung-yuk, remains the best way of making this happen. But it has to be guided by impartiality and open-mindedness and take into account the sensitivities of Hong Kong's people. With co-operation and support, it has a chance of filling the gap in our children's education. Those chosen as members and refusing to take part for reasons of trust are doing Hong Kong a disservice and missing the chance to have an influential voice.

Leung's announcements have taken the fire out of the protests. With tensions eased, the time has come for the committee to get on with its job in earnest.



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