National education can be a viable and useful programme for Hong Kong
As Chief Executive Carrie Lam has hinted, Hong Kong can incorporate its own unique national and international characteristics and outlook, producing a curriculum that suits our needs
If it’s a choice between localist-inspired separatism and “brainwashing” national education, I would choose the latter anytime. In the final analysis, Hong Kong has no future as a separate entity. It’s only viable as part of the country. That is the reality; we might as well tell our children now.
In any case, it doesn’t look like we have a choice. When was the last time a Hong Kong chief executive had a high-profile meeting with the nation’s education minister? This week, Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor met the minister, Chen Baosheng, who promptly reminded her of the importance of strengthening young people’s “education on the Chinese constitution, Basic Law, and Chinese history and culture” in Hong Kong. That is about as explicit as telling Lam to get on with national education, or else. To her credit, Lam manoeuvred some leeway for herself and the city.
“My idea of education is simple: youths should have national awareness, emotional attachment with Hong Kong and an international vision,” she said.
In a subtle way, she is hinting at a national education programme that is not completely driven by patriotism. Yes, awareness of Chinese identity is important, but young people may also feel attached to their city of birth and have a world vision. Yes, we are a Chinese city, but also an international one. That’s our reality, too.
National education has been making a creeping return since 2012, when massive protests led to its being made an optional programme for schools. Some leftist schools have been teaching it all along. Others have strengthened the teaching of Chinese history. While Basic Law education has been around since the early 2000s, new guidelines for secondary schools have made it obligatory to teach a minimum number of hours on the Basic Law, which may be integrated with Chinese history, life and society and geography.
We are already halfway there. Making it fully national is just a matter of adding more mainland-related materials such as the Chinese constitution and the rise of China in the contemporary world.
But, as Lam has hinted, Hong Kong can incorporate materials that reflect our unique national and international characteristics and outlooks. National education is not all or nothing, as the opposition has made it out to be. With a little finesse, we can make it a viable programme that caters to the legitimate expectations of local parents and educators.