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  • Dec 27, 2014
  • Updated: 7:52am
NewsHong Kong

Hong Kong textbooks contain negative stereotypes on cultures and religions, researcher warns

PUBLISHED : Monday, 23 June, 2014, 4:58am
UPDATED : Monday, 23 June, 2014, 11:54am

"Most countries in the north" are developed, wealthy and free while "southern countries" are poorer, with lower education levels, a lack of technology and more political censorship.

No offence, Australia, but this is what a Hong Kong school textbooks says, according to a University of Hong Kong scholar researching the subject.

Stereotypes are more prevalent in textbooks than she expected, says Dr Liz Jackson, a social-science education specialist who has been researching secondary-school liberal studies textbooks for a year and a half.

"I've been surprised to find … a lot of negative stereotypes about Islam and … just a very simple way of discussing diversity," Jackson says. "This doesn't really increase understanding."

Some textbooks, when discussing ethnic minorities, say these people are all disadvantaged, poor and discriminated against. Others say different cultures cannot get along.

In the "Political Globalisation" chapter in Longman New Senior Liberal Studies, published by Pearson, two pictures - one of a Western woman in modern clothing and the other of a Muslim woman in a niqab, or veil, covering her face - are juxtaposed on the same page. The chapter features six pictures depicting Islam - all showing terrorists and extremists.

The passage on the northern and southern countries appears in another set of textbooks published by the Hong Kong Educational Publishing Company.

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Discussions of new immigrants from the mainland appear disproportionately more than those about other minority groups and cultures in all textbooks, Jackson says, adding: "In general, there is a trend that the discussions are oversimplified."

The Educational Publishing Company says the comparison of northern and southern countries is made from a perspective of history and economics and tries to explain how globalisation and outsourcing have come into being. However, the passage does not refer to any time frame for the statement.

Pearson says it has completely changed the contents of the textbook in its latest edition.

Jackson, who is researching the 2010 edition of the four most popular textbook sets, says that when she compared textbooks in the United States over a 10-year span, she seldom observed dramatic changes in content.

Also, when she recently presented her research, many people in her audience told her they still used the 2010 textbooks.

Jackson says cramming too many topics into a few pages is one of the reasons for the generalisation. The media's focus on exciting or frightening news stories and prevalent stereotypes in television shows and films also prevent people from learning about the diversity of other cultures, especially in Hong Kong, where more than 90 per cent of the population is Han Chinese.

"Children don't necessarily know diverse people," she says. "Teachers, too, may not. If they're getting their information from the textbooks, the news and movies, there's no way for them to know what lives are really like for ethnic minorities in Hong Kong."

Jackson believes a lack of knowledge of diversity will lead to ignorance and poor policy making, as good decisions are made with the best information available based on the understanding of differences. "One of the purposes of education is to invite students to a broader world so they can transcend their social class and become upwardly mobile."

The Education Bureau says it does not assess liberal studies textbooks because it believes teachers should not rely only on textbooks and should draw on various teaching materials and discussions on current issues.

But Jackson says the relatively new subject means teachers, with little previous experience, tend to rely heavily on textbooks.

She says although it is not possible for teachers to learn about every religion and culture while handling a tight teaching schedule, the best thing they can do is to focus on training their own critical thinking and media literacy and to share these skills with their pupils. They can also take pupils out of the classroom to meet real people from different cultural and ethnic groups.

"In Hong Kong as a globalised society … if we're not including everyone in the society into the dialogue, we might make a decision that we will later regret," Jackson says.


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This article is now closed to comments

These books are written and edited by local HKers who have very little international experience, I know some of them personnally.
It is undoubtable that Hong Kong textbooks and most teachers stereotype race, religion, culture and nationality. It is unfortunate that our children are being brainwashed to become the next generation of racists, even if their racism is mostly related to ignorance rather than violence. It could easily be turned around by simply removing stereotypes from our textbooks and by educating our educators. It may be useful to offer more exchange programs for teachers and students from Hong Kong to places like the United States or Canada where there is integration of race, religion and culture in every major city and stereotyping is seriously frowned upon.
Another misconception that should be corrected is the idea that 90% of the Hong Kong population is "Han Chinese". Han is a racial group it isn't a nationality, the official list of racial ethnicities does not include a race called Han Chinese but rather simply Han. And, though Hong Kong does not keep records of racial ethnicity studies have shown that the population of Hong Kong is actually made up of a far bigger percent of minority races from the southern provinces of China than the Han race. From the studies that I have read the Han race makes up no more than 70% of the population in Hong Kong. It really is an injustice to the rest of the minority races from China that they are lumped into one category.
The article is all true without this sentence "In Hong Kong as a globalised society ". I think, it is too far to this society to be called globalized! Yes, maybe in economics.
My lecturer in Sociology was astonished when I said that Sociology as a science was not coined by August Comte (19 January 1798 – 5 September 1857), but by Ibn Khaldun ( May 27, 1332- 19 March 1406 )
That;s what happens when you try to develop a textbook from scratch for teachers that have no background in it: geography; history etc.; and have to make it into 3 volumes for a silly exam.
And seriously, Hong Kong is NOT becoming globalized
But Southern Hemisphere countries generally are poorer than Northern Hemisphere countries. Its true!
HK educational system.... please can EDB standardize the text books and actually screen what is being published? homogenisation? surely we should be promoting to embrace different cultures?
in HK, quite some people who are in the capacity writing up textbook don't know what stereotyping is. I think those mistakes were made only unwittingly, .they need to learn...now they are on the learning curve...thanks to people like Prof Jackson for pointing out..
Oi! What what ya saying mate!
?! are you saying this is a fact?


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