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.
Government 'hid public split' on national education
Consultation documents reveal people's opinions on controversial lessons were divided last year, despite official claims of widespread support
Public opinion was divided about national education in schools, despite official insistence that the subject had widespread support, documents have revealed.
The revelation comes from the long-awaited findings of a public consultation on the controversial policy, conducted last year.
After repeated requests by the South China Morning Post, the Education Bureau has now released about 500 written submissions, as well as the findings of a separate survey of teachers.
A study of the submissions showed no overriding support for the government's plan to require all public schools to incorporate patriotic lessons into their curriculum. Furthermore, many teachers who said national education was necessary felt it did not need to be introduced as a formalised subject.
The findings prompted opponents of the policy to accuse the government of lying and to warn that "dishonesty" in decision making could harm Hong Kong's stability in the long run.
"It is very disappointing that the government does not even respect public consultation," said Andrew Shum Wai-nam, spokesman for the Alliance Against National Education.
After the consultation, Education Bureau officials in April this year proposed a three-year preparation period for public primary and secondary schools to introduce the subject, after which it would become compulsory.
But it retreated in September following massive protests and a week-long occupation of an area outside the government's headquarters in Admiralty.
A count by the Post of 406 submissions handed to the government between May and August last year, as well as 87 submissions made available for two public hearings at the Legislative Council, showed that more opposed or had reservations about the subject than supported it.
Only 30 per cent of those who made the submissions to the government and Legco expressed clear support for the subject, while 47 per cent opposed it. The rest either voiced reservations or did not indicate a clear stance.
There were, however, about 100 opposing submissions that looked as though they had been drawn up using a template. Excluding these the numbers of supporting and opposing submissions are similar.
A source in the Education Bureau, who refused to be named, insisted yesterday that the consultation had served its purpose.
Shum, however, said the findings showed that the government "lied" about widespread support for the subject.
"Public opinion on this matter is very clear. There is no need for national education in Hong Kong," he said.
Education-sector legislator Yip Kin-yuen said there would have been less opposition if the government had not pushed for national education as an independent subject.
He cited a survey conducted last year by the Hong Kong Professional Teachers' Union, of which he is a member, that found 74 per cent of some 2,400 union members said national education should be taught through extra-curricular activities and existing subjects, such as geography, Chinese history and Chinese language.
An Education Bureau source insisted the overall response to the consultation - which also asked opinions of teachers through questionnaires - was positive.
He said questionnaires returned to the bureau by 400 schools, as well as 450 individual responses during public forums, were mostly supportive.
"Many schools have been doing it for years. We have heard from many people that we need to strengthen it," he said.
He explained that the questionnaires did not ask whether the subject should be taught separately, as making national education a separate subject was the intention of government policy.
But Yip said the strong protests that followed the decision to make the subject compulsory showed the consultation on the subject only served to "manipulate so-called public support" for the policy. He said such practices would "only create tension" between the government and people if they were misrepresented.
Dennis Chong, Amy Nip, Phila Siu and Lo Wei