Civic education helps prepare young people for their role as responsible citizens by imparting knowledge and skills that will help them participate effectively in community, government and political affairs. It should be an open-minded process geared to their maturing ability to grasp institutional and political concepts.
We can only wonder what a New Territories school was thinking when it tried to compel Form Four students to join a pro-government rally, by making attendance count towards a mandatory minimum of 'other learning experiences' under the new secondary curriculum. The rally on Saturday has been called to demonstrate public support for the government's electoral reform proposals. We would have been just as taken aback if the students had been compelled to attend a rally organised by critics of the proposals, who want a clearer road map towards universal suffrage.
MFBM Chan Lui Chung Tak Memorial College in Tin Shui Wai, a Buddhist school, told parents that to enhance pupils' 'civic sense and show care about Hong Kong's development', it had arranged for a 'universal suffrage, support political reform' campaign in Victoria Park. The event coincides with a rally in support of the government proposals. Given the connection, the school's own description of the exercise is overtly political. Under pressure from parents, it has since made participation voluntary. Its original stance has, rightly, been strongly criticised - among others by the Education Bureau, lawmakers and district councillors.
Political development towards the ultimate goal of universal suffrage is a defining issue of our times and our children's future. If the current debate is to be included in civic education, schools have a responsibility to see that they get a balanced picture that encourages reasoned, critical thinking. Participation in one side of the argument will not provide it. We can only guess at the motive behind the original decision. The school was wise to drop compulsory participation. It would have been wiser still for the students' sake to have abandoned the whole idea.