The publisher of a series of controversial textbooks that has caused an international outcry for its stereotypical view of different racial groups has hit back, claiming its books promote "racial harmony".
The New General Studies textbooks, aimed at primary schools, have been heavily criticised for teaching children to differentiate people from different ethnic backgrounds by their skin colour, physical features and jobs. In particular, a picture of a cartoon figure with darker skin saying "I am a Filipino. I am a domestic helper in Hong Kong" angered minority rights groups.
Publisher Educational Publishing House said in a statement yesterday that the English-language textbooks' theme was "racial harmony" and that the editors hoped offering examples relevant to the pupils' lives would help press the message home.
"The example in the textbook is not intended to denounce Filipinos," the publisher said. "No job is superior or inferior to another. If anyone suspects the textbook is discriminating against Filipinos, it would only be the individual's personal view."
But Cynthia Abdon-Tellez, general manager of the Mission for Migrant Workers, said stereotyping was a form of discrimination and that the textbook would promote the idea that "if you are white, you are rich".
"They'd better be careful in giving examples [in the books], because it's influencing the minds of the young," she said. "I hope they don't just defend themselves but try to rethink and review, taking into consideration other people's opinions."
Controversy over the books has been featured in international media including Al Jazeera, Huffington Post and The Washington Post website since local blogger Tom Grundy first reported on them.
Pictures of minority people appear in just five chapters out of 68 textbooks and workbooks. The chapters are about multiculturalism, poverty, hunger and war.
A spokesman for the Pakistani Students Association said the group would ask its members whether their schools had been using the textbooks.
The spokesman described his joy at visiting the Museum of History in 2007 and seeing a statue of a Sikh policeman in uniform. When he returned last year, the statue was nowhere to be seen.
"I was happy that the museum showed ethnic minority people doing a different job, but now that's gone," he said. "Local pupils don't have much knowledge about other countries. Textbooks should provide a more balanced picture of different cultures."
If a textbook had to show ethnic minority people doing a particular job, it should help pupils think about why certain work was associated with certain groups.
"They should ask why Pakistanis and Indians could join the police when they first came to Hong Kong but now they can't," he said.