National education committee will consider all options, chairwoman says
Panel to adopt 'wide and flexible' interpretation of its terms of reference
Options such as renaming the national education subject as civic education and making contemporary Chinese history a compulsory subject will be listed on the agenda of the government-appointed committee on national education.
Anna Wu Hung-yuk, chairwoman of the Committee on the Implementation of Moral and National Education, says all discussions and suggestions will likely be included in the committee's report to Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying.
Wu says she will assure fellow committee members at its meeting at the end of this month that the panel would adopt a "wide and flexible" interpretation of its scope of power, including considering the option of scrapping the controversial subject.
Wu told the South China Morning Post that she hoped her interpretation of their terms of reference would broaden what the committee could discuss.
That differs from Leung's position that the protesters should not set the withdrawal of national education as a prerequisite for dialogue with the administration.
The committee, set up at the end of last month, was originally tasked to study the difficulties of introducing the new curriculum and to screen teaching materials.
Wu, who is also an executive councillor, says she will seek written endorsement of her flexible interpretation of the committee's scope of power from committee members at their first meeting.
"The committee will be free to recommend any suggestions after thorough discussion, including non-introduction of the subject," she said. "The three-year introduction period could also be extended if difficulties that arise in introducing the subject cannot be resolved by then."
She says she informed Leung about her stance shortly after the committee's establishment.
"C.Y. had no problem with this," she said. Leung said on Tuesday the committee would be free to consider retracting the subject but maintained that he had no intention of scrapping it. He said there was room for compromise if protesters stopped calling for its withdrawal, adding that there was plenty of room for discussion "between scrapping the subject and not scrapping it".
"But the government's position [of insisting on proceeding with introducing the subject] won't affect my interpretation of what the committee can discuss," Wu said, adding that she was not chairing the committee in her capacity as an Executive Council member.
Yuen Pong-yiu, chairman of the Hong Kong Association of the Heads of Secondary Schools, welcomed the extended terms of reference for the committee. The group's representative, Wong Wai-yu, serves on the committee.
Yuen said the group maintained that teaching national education as an independent subject was not the only tool available to teach students.
He said the curriculum guide should be amended to allay public fears. And he believed the government's position would not prevent committee members from making suggestions that deviated from the official policy.
Tang Fei, a member of the committee and vice-president of the Hong Kong Federation of Education Workers, said the federation was keeping an open mind. "The opponents should convince the committee why this [national education] cannot be done through a subject," he said.