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.
Teachers stall boycotts until government gives answers on national education
The teachers’ union said on Wednesday that it would wait for the government’s final response to calls for scrapping the introduction of national education classes before deciding whether to proceed with a class boycott campaign.
Hong Kong Professional Teachers’ Union (HKPTU) chief executive Ip Kin-yuen said the group had not given up on its boycott plans, but it wanted to thoroughly consult all stakeholders before taking such steps.
The largest teachers’ group in Hong Kong is leading a campaign against what it calls a move to indoctrinate the next generation with nationalistic ideals.
“Class boycotts are not the end, but the means in the campaign against the brainwashing national education. But we will do it step by step to achieve the goal,” the education functional constituency candidate said on a radio programme in a debate with another candidate, Ho Hon-kuen.
The two candidates are contesting the constituency in the upcoming Legislative Council elections.
Ip added that boycotting classes was a last resort and would only proceed if the government refused to scrap the subject after the school term started on September 3.
But Ho accused Yip and the union he represents of putting teachers and students’ wellbeing at stake by pursuing their own political objectives.
He said the repeated threat of class boycotts had overwhelmed teachers as they were busy preparing for the upcoming school term.
“The group is politicising education at the expense of teachers,” Ho said.
The introduction of the national education subject to all public schools remains a highly controversial issue in the city, as the government refuses to back down from its original plan, despite a massive protest last month involving students, parents and teachers.
Opponents of national education are planning another protest on Saturday at the government’s headquarters at Tamar in Admiralty.
The HKPTU recently played down its call for class boycotts after revelations of the plan triggered concerns among teachers and parents and criticisms from politicians as being too radical.
Only a handful of about 500 primary schools have indicated that they would start teaching the subject this term. This is the first school year of a “three-year initiation period” set out by the government for schools to equip themselves with resources, teachers and teaching materials.
Secretary for Education Eddie Ng has maintained that the policy would not be delayed, despite protests, saying that those who did not take to the street in the earlier demonstrations were the “silent majority” who were supportive of the government.
He made the statement on Sunday on a television show, only days after a committee was set up to scrutinise the implementation of the subject – a committee boycotted by the HKPTU and other opponents.