After months of controversy, Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying announced on Monday afternoon that he would not withdraw the national education course, but would shelve the course guidelines that concern many Hongkongers.
Dismissing calls for a complete withdrawal of the subject, Leung accepted Monday’s recommendations by a government-appointed committee that the course was important and should be taught in schools.
Since schools were free to decide independently whether to teach the course, there was no need to withdraw it, he said.
“I announce the government accepts the committee’s view that moral, national and civil education is an important part of education. Therefore, it is a matter of course that students study the subject,” Leung said.
His latest announcement was in line with his U-turn of September 8, when he announced that the course would not be compulsory.
“I thank the committee for supporting the major policy change the government made on September 8,” Leung said on Monday. “This policy change allows schools and sponsoring bodies to decide whether to teach the subject, when to teach it and how to teach it. I agree with the committee’s conclusion that there is no need to withdraw the subject.”
Leung was speaking at a press conference after the Committee on the Implementation of Moral and National Education held its third and final meeting to discuss the issue.
Earlier on Monday, committee chairwoman Anna Wu Hung-yuk said that all except two members of the committee had agreed that the guidelines on teaching the subject had caused unease in the community, and should be shelved.
Protesters opposed to national education, including students, parents and teachers, have said that as long as the guidelines exist the government can revive the subject at any time.
Leung, who did not take any questions during his two-minute statement at the press conference, said he hoped Monday’s developments would end months of argument over the curriculum.
The argument had been “divisive”, casting a negative impact on classes and school operations, he said.
“I hope that through the efforts of this widely representative committee, and the government’s acceptance of its recommendations, the argument will be over, mutual trust in the community will be rebuilt and students can study in an interference-free environment,” he said.
The national education curriculum became a challenge for Leung after he took office in July.
Tens of thousands of protesters camped out near the government headquarters for 10 days last month. Some went on a hunger strike while university students boycotted classes.
That action resulted in the government’s climbdown on the issue, giving public schools the option of implementing the subject rather than making the classes compulsory.
Officials say the subject will instil national pride but opponents are concerned it could be turned into a tool for indoctrination.