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.
First national education classes taught at Tai Kok Tsui primary school
Four different-coloured hats were used to help pupils at a Tai Kok Tsui primary school grasp their first lessons in moral and national education yesterday while opponents of the controversial curriculum continued to demand that it be scrapped.
Fresh Fish Traders' School headmaster Leung Kee-cheong invited parents and journalists to sit in on the lessons as Primary Six pupils learned about the national flag and younger children were instructed on such moral issues as family roles and telling lies.
The school, serving mainly less-well-off children, will have seven lessons in the programme over the school year.
The school has not assigned teaching materials, and teachers have been given free rein to impart what they like within the curriculum's framework.
Media flocked to the only primary six classroom to observe how teacher Ken Sze Chi-king would tackle a lesson on the flag and flag-raising ceremonies.
Sze, who usually teaches Chinese and is co-ordinating the programme, used four hats to symbolise objective, critical, emotional and optimistic ways of thinking about any given topic - a technique derived from Edward de Bono's book Six Thinking Hats.
He first played a video of activists waving the national flag on one of the Diaoyu islands and another of a man burning the flag.
This was followed by video of a flag-raising ceremony in Golden Bauhinia Square and the same ceremony after the National Day ferry disaster in which the flag flew at half mast.
He then asked the pupils to put on one of the coloured hats and try to use the mode of thinking it represented to compare the different contexts in which the flag appeared.
"I wanted to show the pupils that the flag itself is neutral, but it is the context that it is in that gives it meaning," he said.
"Everything has hard facts, but why do we add meanings to it? I want them to have more than one way of looking at an issue, which includes being critical and emotional."
Opponents have condemned the subject as "brainwashing" because it avoids controversial and negative topics about the mainland.
But during the class, Sze brought up the suspicious death of activist Li Wangyang in June and the poisoned milk powder scandal that rocked the mainland in 2008.