National education in Hong Kong

Anna Wu chose her words on national education carefully

National education panel chairwoman reveals delicate process in announcing climbdown

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 20 October, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 03 October, 2016, 5:52pm

Anna Wu Hung-yuk knows very well that politics is the art of the possible - and every word counts.

The panel she chaired - the Committee on the Implementation of Moral and National Education - recommended on October 8 that the controversial guidelines for national education be "shelved".

That word was chosen very carefully, as she explained in a recent interview with the South China Morning Post.

Wu said a different word - "withdrawing" the school subject - could not be used because it would effectively stop schools from teaching the lesson.

"To me, that would not be consistent with the autonomy given to schools or the concept of academic freedom," she said.

"It was important to choose a term familiar to the Civil Alliance Against National Education - hence the choice of 'shelving' the curriculum guide," she said. "This was suggested, by friends of the alliance, to be used in place of 'withdrawal' of the subject."

But "shelving" raised the question of whether it was a temporary arrangement, and if the subject could be revived at some point, she said.

"Hence, it was necessary to define what that term meant in the context of the curriculum guide having lost its binding effect, and official status, as a result of the policy change - and that no future official guide would be issued," she said.

"While the alliance preferred a stronger term like 'withdrawal', the combination of the word 'shelving' and the clarifications made it by and large acceptable to the alliance.

"These are the substantive benchmarks I built into the committee's final recommendation," Wu said.

The committee decided, during a meeting on September 27, to advise the government that the curriculum guideline had "lapsed in effect".

Wu said she noticed media reports had used the word "invalidate" after her announcement on that meeting's outcome, which she made in Chinese.

A better reflection of what I meant in the announcement was "lapsed in effect", she said.

In the final stage of that meeting, the committee members could not agree to use the term "shelving".

Wu's efforts to push for the term "shelving" finally paid off in the October 8 meeting.