Outrage over primary school textbook that asks pupils to 'match the races'

'Many offended' by books that ask primary pupils to identify physical characteristics of different races and match them to likely jobs

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 03 June, 2014, 3:10am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 03 June, 2014, 3:10am

Two education scholars are behind a series of general studies textbooks that have sparked bitter controversy for their racially stereotypical contents.

The textbooks - New General Studies - are co-authored by Irene Cheng Nga-yee, assistant professor in the Institute of Education's department of science and environment studies, and Teresa Chai Yip Wai-lin, former deputy head of the institute's department of social sciences.

Neither the scholars nor the publisher, Educational Publishing House, could be reached for comment last night.

The textbooks, for primary pupils, have been criticised for their focus on physical differences among races and stereotypes about their life and work.

In a chapter called Racial Harmony, in a textbook titled Living in Hong Kong, pupils are required to discuss how "foreigners" live based on photos showing people of different ethnic backgrounds doing different jobs. One of the photos shows a white male in a neat, black suit carrying a black suitcase, while another photo shows a South Asian man on a construction site.

In the workbook accompanying the textbook - published for Primary Three pupils - children are asked to complete word bubbles for five cartoon figures.

A bubble next to a white man with an English textbook reads, "I am [blank]. I am an English teacher", while the text next to a woman with darker skin reads, "I am [blank]. I am a domestic helper in Hong Kong". Choices for the blanks include British, Filipino, Indian, Japanese, Chinese and Korean.

In the We are a Family chapter of The Wonderful World textbook for Primary Four pupils, children are required to "circle the correct answers" to "common physical characteristics" of different races, such as whether a black boy has thin or thick lips. Other descriptions of the black boy include "very dark skin" and "curly hair".

The workbook asks pupils to match "the white race", "the black race", "the brown race" and "the yellow race" with figures representing Africans, Japanese, British, Australian Aborigines, Chinese and Dutch.

"Many people find it offensive," said Marysia Marchant, an English teacher at a Chinese-medium school which does not use the textbooks.

Marchant said such books reinforced stereotypes such as that all British were white and that South Asians could do only menial jobs. "The only value is for children to do critical thinking to see what's wrong with it."

The Equal Opportunities Commission said educational materials should reflect diversity instead of stereotypes and it hoped the Curriculum Development Institute and the Education Bureau could jointly develop equal-opportunities materials.

The Education Bureau said the series was not on its recommended textbook list.

But a staff member at Ling Kee Bookstore on Des Voeux Road Central said more than half of the city's English-medium schools, including many "elite schools", had been using the series.

The bureau said it had asked the publisher to follow up.