National education should be history

PUBLISHED : Friday, 19 October, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 19 October, 2012, 2:12am

Just when you thought it was all over, you had a big clash between supporters and opponents of national education outside the government headquarters in Admiralty. The opposers have overplayed their hand and provoked an inevitable backlash from the public. They couldn't leave it well enough alone after securing almost total victory over the government.

There is substantial support for national education. Certainly not everyone is convinced that the shelved government guidelines, however imperfect or biased, amounted to indoctrination. But "brainwashing" was an effective rallying point started by Catholic Cardinal Joseph Zen Ze-kiun, media tycoon Jimmy Lai Chee-Ying's Apple Daily and the Professional Teachers' Union.

Apple runs a special e-mail address for people to rat on schools that try to introduce national education. It has classified such teaching material as showing respect to the national flag and the national anthem as de facto national education. Perhaps Lai and his US Republican Party sidekick prefer us to salute the American flag and the Star Spangled Banner? Parents were encouraged to form groups to monitor schools for such material. And these groups used to accuse the government of perpetuating "white terror"! No wonder few schools now dare to touch China studies. The government now gives a choice to schools to introduce their own programmes to teach about China, but those opponents are demanding a total ban. So much for democratic principles and freedom to choose! It's time to say enough is enough to politicising our campuses.

Let's try to start a rational discussion. Clearly, there is a need to teach young people about contemporary China. If nothing else, you can't understand the world today without knowing something about its pre-eminent rising power. It is also a non-starter to relaunch national education.

Here, we should call in professional historians in Chinese history and curriculum specialists. Historians may be boring people but their profession has standards. Our universities are not short of top scholars in this field. Let's go back to the drawing board and design a programme based on the most rigorous scholarship on China for our young people.