National education in Hong Kong

Principals' group calls for online forum to discuss national education

Influential principals' group says government should set up an internet forum where public can offer ideas on how sensitive topics are taught

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 22 August, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 22 August, 2012, 3:24am

A leading group of school principals has called on the government to set up an internet forum to consult the public on national education teaching materials related to sensitive historic events, such as the June 4, 1989 bloodshed in Tiananmen Square.

"The recent controversy has put teachers under a lot of pressure," Yuen Pong-yiu, the head of the Hong Kong Association of the Heads of Secondary Schools, said yesterday. "When we implement [national education], there will be a lot of repercussions, however we do it."

Dialogue between opponents and the government has become deadlocked in recent weeks. Yuen said the impasse must be resolved to avoid damaging relationships between the government, parents and pupils.

A leading opponent of the course, the Professional Teachers' Union, has threatened to organise class boycotts if the government does not withdraw the subject. This stance has been branded by some as too radical, while government officials say a thorough consultation has already been conducted.

A government committee to scrutinise how the subject is introduced - expected to be headed by Executive Councillor and former Equal Opportunities Commission chairwoman Anna Wu Hung-yuk - will be formed in the coming days.

Yuen, whose association will send a consultant to the two- dozen-strong committee, said that if the course was to go ahead, the government should provide an internet platform for the public to discuss how sensitive topics were handled, including what information was relevant and how the topics would be taught.

"The portal, which can be a teaching platform, should be created on the basis of consensus between the Education Bureau and schools. This way, we will feel much more comfortable," he said.

He stressed his group, which represents 400 principals of public secondary schools, remained opposed to introducing national education as a compulsory, independent subject.

Yuen said schools should be able to make their own choice on whether to allocate specific class time to the subject, or teach it during extracurricular activities.

He said the time was not right for a class boycott, although the group might support one in the future if no improvements were seen following discussions among the committee members on the subject's implementation.

"We want to keep the discussions open now. But we do not rule [a boycott] out if the situation gets worse," he said.

Under the current government plan, primary schools can decide for themselves whether to start teaching the subject when the school term begins in September, while secondary schools will be offered the choice next year. Few schools have indicated they will follow the government's plan.

Officials say all schools must start teaching the subject by 2016 after a suitable preparation period.