Education minister Eddie Ng Hak-kim has defended the controversial national-education subject for schools, saying it is useful for 'values building' despite its overlap with other subjects and the growing pressure to delay its introduction.
Academics, meanwhile, continued to criticise the decision to make it a stand-alone subject, with one saying it would be better as part of the liberal studies curriculum.
The government will launch national education in primary schools next month, and make it compulsory for primary schools in 2015 and in secondary schools the following year.
Ng said yesterday that while the curriculum overlapped with such subjects as Chinese history and liberal studies it offered a different viewpoint.
'Liberal studies trains students' way of thinking, while Chinese history deals with historical facts. The things missing are morals, feelings and values,' he said.
'A student may identify an issue as good or bad and think about it from various angles. But [in national education], they should also address their roles in a family. It's not only about rational analysis.'
Dr Leung Yan-wing, associate director of the Hong Kong Institute of Education's Centre for Governance and Citizenship, said he favoured putting national education under civic education, saying values building must be supported by critical thinking. 'Values involve passion, understanding and action,' he said. 'They cannot be a separate part of human development.''
Leung said it was a good time now to strengthen civic education by including such elements as global citizenship and national education.
'Schools have only paid lip service to those areas because of their focus on students' grades,' he said.
Polytechnic University academic Dr Rodney Chu Wai-chi - a consultant for a popular liberal studies textbook series for senior secondary students - said making national education a stand-alone subject would trigger speculation about a hidden agenda. He said the plan to introduce it next month should be scrapped.
'A lot about China is already covered in liberal studies. Primary and junior secondary students can also learn about China as part of civic education,' said Chu, assistant professor in the university's department of applied social studies.
The textbook for which he was a consultant contained comprehensive information on China, including its opening-up reforms dating back to the late 1970s, economic development over the past decades, challenges for sustainable development, foreign relations, rights movements, and the formation and functions of the National People's Congress.
The book, published by Aristo, also highlights catastrophic events, such as the anti-rightist movement in the 1950s, the Great Leap Forward between 1959 and 1961, the Cultural Revolution and the Tiananmen Square crackdown on June 4, 1989.
'Our book looks at both the positive and negative side,' he said.
A liberal studies textbook for junior secondary students, also by Aristo, includes a module on modern China, explaining its political system, national flag and economic reforms, as well as milestones including entry into the World Trade Organisation and the Beijing Olympics. It also highlights such scandals as the contamination of baby milk formula.
Ng said the members of a committee set up in response to protests from students, families and teachers would be confirmed next week. It will advise the government on national education. Three groups critical of the new subject - the Professional Teachers Union, student group Scholarism and the Parents Concern Group - said they had not been asked to join, but would refuse if invited.
In another development, police are investigating whether a foul-mouthed Facebook attack on Scholarism was posted by a police officer.
Additional reporting by Simpson Cheung