The education chief yesterday dismissed calls for the introduction of national education classes in schools to be delayed, despite concern from community groups and anger over government-funded teaching materials said to be heavily biased.
Secretary for Education Eddie Ng Hak-kim told a radio phone-in programme that 'public discussion should not slow the implementation of national education', while saying he would 'welcome feedback from students after [its] implementation'.
The government says the subject will help instil a sense of national pride and civic responsibility among pupils, while opponents say it could open the way to indoctrination and brainwashing. That concern has been heightened by accusations of bias in a government-funded textbook produced by the National Education Services Centre.
Ng has described the contents of the reference book, The China Model, as 'problematic'. It has been criticised for suggesting that the concentration of political power on the mainland leads to 'selfless' government and stability. The centre is led by Yeung Yiu-chung, a Beijing loyalist and a Hong Kong deputy to the National People's Congress.
The Professional Teachers' Union says the government is trying to force through the implementation of national education and recent events have confirmed the union's fears that the curriculum is politically motivated. It believes the plan should be withdrawn and put up for another round of public consultation.
Union president Fung Wai-wah said: 'There are a lot of existing concerns regarding the subject. The public is worried about the potential brainwashing of their children. Teachers are also not convinced.'
Primary schools are being encouraged to offer national education from September, with secondary schools to follow next year. The subject will become compulsory in 2015 at primary level and in 2016 in secondary schools.
'We think the government is trying to use a combination of heavy-handed tactics and incentives to push the implementation of national education,' Fung said, referring to grants of HK$530,000 being offered to government-run and subsidised schools planning to teach moral and national education. 'We do not rule out staging protests if the government is bent on going its own way. Some teachers have already talked about a boycott of national education teaching ,' he added.
Scholarism, a group of secondary school students opposed to national education, has also called for more consultation.