Has political correctness become so trendy that even Hong Kong's education authorities have been carried away by the hype? In a circular issued to the heads of all secondary and primary schools last month, the Education Department advised them that all schools should ensure that students are 'imparted with updated and accurate information in the light of the change of sovereignty in 1997'. 'With the resumption of sovereignty of China over Hong Kong in 1997, it is inevitable that factual information such as terminologies and titles contained in existing textbooks or learning materials for various subjects . . . needs updating to reflect social and political changes that will take place, such as removal of expressions against the 'one country' principle.' Presumably, the department takes the circular as a perfectly innocent reminder to schools as Hong Kong moves closer to the handover. But teachers and school heads are not exactly happy with such a memo. Sceptical chiefs and teachers are wondering whether the department has started to practise political correctness by interfering with what should be taught at schools. They also query why the department only emphasises the 'one country' principle without mentioning the promise of 'two systems'. Some teachers are understood to have been shocked when informed of the circular because traditionally the department does not screen the content of textbooks and teaching materials. According to the teachers, all that education officials do is to check whether the textbooks include all topics and subjects outlined in the school syllabus. If the textbooks meet this requirement, the department will put them on the recommended textbook list. On the other hand, schools are not required to choose the textbooks recommended by the department. They have full discretion in selecting books outside the recommended list or they can even compile their own teaching materials. Against such a background, it is not surprising that some teachers and school heads feel awkward about the circular. What does the department mean by saying that expressions against the 'one country' principle be removed? In the circular, the department quoted the examples of 'China as a neighbouring country of Hong Kong' and the title of 'the Nationalist Government' used for Taiwan's Government from 1949 as expressions that needed to be deleted. But what else will be included? Would they ban mentioning the June 4 crackdown in class? And would teachers bear any consequences if they failed to follow the department's advice? All these questions reflect how counter-productive the circular is. The textbook issue is one of the most sensitive topics for the Special Administrative Region. It is also a hot issue for foreign journalists in the remaining days of the transition. A major concern among teachers, journalists and other interested parties is whether the content of textbooks, especially in history books, will be distorted to the extent that Beijing may consider them politically correct. For many teachers, when trying to convince the world that Hong Kong's present system is to be preserved for 50 years as promised in both the Joint Declaration and the Basic Law, the last thing that the territory wants is to see our education authorities start to abandon its non-interventionist role in what is taught in class. The worry is that once education officials start to give schools a political steer, our system will move closer to China's, a development that goes against the principle of 'one country, two systems'.