An organisation with strong links to a group at the centre of the national-education row in 2012 will have its government funding doubled to HK$1.3 million next year, raising concerns that the money will be used to promote the controversial “brainwashing” curriculum.
The Association of Hong Kong Flag-guards, which trains school pupils in flag-raising, is one of 11 uniformed groups – also including the Scout Association and the Red Cross – to receive the extra money.
It has several Beijing-friendly heavyweights in its advisory and management boards and vice-chairman Yeung Yiu-chung heads the National Education Centre which published The China Model, a handbook for national education that was seen as biased towards the Communist Party.
While the association, formed in 2002, said it had no specific expansion plan, the principal of a school that has joined its flag-raising programme said the funding would also cover “national education courses”.
A leading campaigner against national education, Eva Chan Sik-chee said the flag-guards association substantially differed from other uniformed teams in terms of its values, which emphasised national identity.
“Other uniformed teams hold more diverse values while the flag-guards association has heavy emphasis on facing the national flag,” said Chan, a senior lecturer at the Chinese University and convenor of a parents’ concern group. “We are concerned with any ideological work it may do other than the flag-raising ceremony per se.”
The eight honorary advisors for the association, include Basic Law Committee deputy director Elsie Leung Oi-sie, three members of the standing committee of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference and two National People’s Congress deputies.
Wong Chow Kuen-kuen, a standing committee member of Beijing-friendly Chinese General Chamber of Commerce, is its president.
The increases, announced by chief executive Leung Chun-ying in his policy address, will lift the association’s subsidy from the present HK$650,000.
Association director Hui Chun-lung said the money would be used to “strengthen the existing programmes”, which, according to its website, aim to “promote students’ and the public’s concern towards the state” and “intensify recognition of national identity”, according to its official website.
“Cultivating knowledge and sense about the nation is part of our work, but not a large part of it,” Hui said. “The money will be spent on the current programmes … We do a lot in developing young people’s leadership.”
The programmes include offering flag-raising training for students and organising flag-raising contests.
The principal of participating HKFEW Wong Cho Bau School in Tung Chung said the subsidy was used to fund students to take courses on flag-raising and national education.
Leung Siu-tong said his school had about 30 students participating in the association, “with some of them also being part of other uniformed groups at the same time”.
Leung said the students did the flag-raising ceremony once a month and the funding his school received all went on “buying necessities such as flags and uniforms for the students”, “subsidising students to take courses to learn how to raise flags” and “sending students to take courses on national education.”
Pui Kiu College in Tai Wai, another school widely regarded as having a pro-Beijing background, is also among the 56 primary and 44 secondary schools that participate.
Plans to introduce national education in all schools was shelved after massive protests in 2012 that described it as brainwashing.
Education lawmaker Ip Kin-yuen said close monitoring was needed on how the association spent the extra public funds.
The Home Affairs Bureau said the city’s uniformed groups were well-established voluntary agencies “with a proven track record, a wealth of experience in youth development and with a sufficiently large youth membership in Hong Kong”.
The association has 3,000 members while the Scout Association has more than 95,000.
Asked on the pro-Beijing colour of its leaders and advisors, Hui said: “They are invited based on their ability and care about education, but not their background.”
Wong Kwan-yu, one of the association’s advisors and chairman of the Federation of Education Workers, a pro-Beijing teacher group, rejected claims of “brainwashing”.
“If the accusation really stands, then I can say The Boy’s Brigade also brainwashes students,” said Yeung, referring to another government-subsidised uniformed group.