More pressure is being put on the government to reconsider the introduction of national education in the new school year, with a leading Beijing loyalist educational body pulling back from its support for an immediate launch and teachers and pupils calling for a massive rally.
The government is allowing primary schools to teach the subject, intended to foster a sense of national pride and belonging, from the start of the new school year in just six weeks.
But the president of the Federation of Education Workers, which has long supported national education, admitted he was no longer committed to seeing the subject taught this year, after widespread public concern emerged.
'We are leaving it open as to what the government thinks is a suitable time [for the subject's introduction],' said Yeung Yiu-chung, president of the Federation of Education Workers. Yeung also heads the National Education Services Centre, which has come under fire for publishing course materials condemned as biased by the subject's opponents.
'We are not obsessed with when [it is done], as long as it is done,' Yeung said. Another federation member accused the government of failing in the implementation of the policy. 'Bulldozing it through will just not bring effective results,' said the teacher.
Meanwhile, an alliance of teachers, pupils and parents said it would rally thousands of people to protest against national education on Sunday to preserve the 'independent minds' of future generations.
Organisers expect more than 10,000 people to march to the new government headquarters in Admiralty to oppose a subject they described as a brainwashing tool.
Joshua Wong Chi-fung, 15, one of the rally's organisers, said yesterday: 'We do not need narrow-minded nationalism.'
Fung Wai-wah, a Professional Teachers' Union representative, said: 'Teachers should not become tools for brainwashing.' The government must not ignore opposition to the subject, Fung said.
Last week several religious groups said the schools they sponsored would not teach national education until they understood better the government's plans.
An advertisement signed by about 1,000 parents and scholars, artists and others appears in several newspapers today urging the government not to go ahead with national education in September. Signatories include Cardinal Joseph Zen Ze-kiun, bishop emeritus of Hong Kong, commentator Allen Lee Peng-fei, a former National People's Congress member, singer Anthony Wong Yiu-ming and radio host Sammy Leung Chi-kin.
Government figures yesterday defended the curriculum. The education secretary, Eddie Ng Hak-kim, said: 'I hope parents and teachers will go to the Education Bureau's website and read the national education curriculum guidelines and decide for themselves whether the curriculum is aimed at brainwashing, so they will not be misled.'
Executive Council member Fanny Law Fan Chiu-fun said parents had overreacted. 'The reaction does not need to be so strong. Stopping [the subject] is not a sensible choice. What we should do is to discuss how to make it work.'
Law said she understood the practical issues facing individual schools, and the curriculum proposed by the government earlier this year was only meant as a guideline. 'Schools can adopt it in accordance with their own conditions.'
The government said in April that primary schools would be able to introduce national education this September, while secondary schools could do so in September next year. The subject is due to become compulsory in primary schools in 2015 and secondary schools in 2016.