University students add voice to national education protest
Student union urges class boycott next week as campaign against national education programme widens and enters second week
Dennis Chong, Stuart Lau and Phila Siu
University student leaders are organising a citywide class boycott on Tuesday to push for national education to be scrapped, taking opposition up a notch.
The battle over the subject has spread from primary schools to the government headquarters in Admiralty, and is now set to reach university campuses.
Pledges from officials to leave the door open for discussion have failed to prevent protest from escalating. The sudden appearance of a replica of the Goddess of Democracy statue at the Admiralty sit-in on Tuesday night revived memories of the 1989 Tiananmen Square crackdown, raising concerns among national education opponents their core message might be hijacked.
The Hong Kong Federation of Students, an alliance of university student unions, urged students to boycott classes on September 11, a day after most universities start the new semester. The campaign will kick off with a rally at Chinese University.
"I hope this will be a city-wide student campaign," said federation secretary general Samuel Li Shing-hong, who hopes several thousand students take part.
Federation spokesman Liu Sze-ming said 1,000 students were expected to join the boycott.
"The government has ignored public concerns and gone to great lengths pushing for the subject. Nothing can better prove the political motives behind it," the federation said in a statement yesterday. "We as university students understand our responsibilities, which is why we are uniting now to oppose it."
The statement was signed by student unions from eight universities and tertiary institutions. It also urged university staff and students to help in a boycott at primary and secondary schools by volunteering to teach.
The Moral and National Education course is being introduced voluntarily now and is due to become compulsory in 2016.
Meanwhile, public sentiment remained high as the "Occupy Tamar" movement entered its seventh day. Organisers put the attendance at 10,000, about the same number as the preceding night, compared with 8,000 on each on the two nights before.
Some of the organisers hinted at a change of tactics, believing the enthusiasm for the sit-in would soon wane.
"There's a step or two to go before we achieve success," said Heidi Ma Lok-ching, a member of student activist group Scholarism. "We are thinking of how to achieve it and will take action in the next few weeks."
The ongoing hunger strike drew three more participants - an anonymous City University student and Professional Teachers' Union staff members Billy Hung Ying-ho and Siu Chiu-kit.
The action started out with three people last Thursday, and by the end of last night there were nine hunger strikers, as several had withdrawn under medical advice. The union's vice-president Wong Hak-lim and City University students Chan Tak-wan and Lee Chak-man were the latest to drop out, because of low blood sugar. Chan, who had gone without food for 90 hours, criticised Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying for not visiting the hunger strikers.
The replica of the Goddess of Democracy was sent to the protest zone from Polytechnic University on Tuesday. Neither Scholarism nor the Hong Kong Alliance in Support of Patriotic Democratic Movements in China - which organises the annual June 4 candlelight vigils - said they had organised it.
The statue was removed yesterday morning.
"There needs to be a gimmick, an icon, for the campaign, but it should be its own, not one that's borrowed from somewhere else," hunger striker and university student Chan said.