Albert Cheng
Albert Cheng

Government failing Hongkongers with national education push

Albert Cheng says the government's decision to press on despite strong opposition shows it is doing Beijing's bidding, not what's best for the city

With the new school year quickly approaching, almost the entire city, especially secondary school principals and nearly 200 primary and secondary schools affiliated with the Catholic diocese of Hong Kong, are against the introduction of national education. The Catholic diocese has written to all its schools to make its stance clear.

Secretary for Education Eddie Ng Hak-kim, who had avoided discussing the issue with members of Scholarism, a group of primary and secondary school students, and the Parents Concern Group on National Education, suddenly addressed the topic last week. He told the media that a moral and national education curriculum is a must and will be introduced this year as part of a gradual roll-out, despite the mounting public outcry.

He said that even though he didn't expect many schools to implement the new policy next month, the government would not try to find out how many schools have rolled out these lessons.

However, in almost the same breath, he stressed that the government would assist principals and their schools which have categorically refused to execute the national education programme. This sounded like a veiled threat.

Ng said that despite a recent protest attended by an estimated 90,000 parents and students to pressure the authorities into scrapping national education lessons, he believed that the majority of Hongkongers supported the curriculum.

Ng seems oblivious to public opinion. This kind of autocratic and shameful behaviour will only anger more people and stir more public discontent. It's preposterous for him to claim that the majority of Hongkongers who didn't take part in the protest rally support national education.

Members of Scholarism and parent representatives will camp outside the government headquarters in Tamar over the weekend to coincide with the start of the new school year on Monday. The "Occupy Tamar" sit-in campaign serves as an ultimatum to the government.

I sincerely hope that all Hongkongers will come forward and speak up against this repressive policy before it's too late.

Ng has vehemently denied that the introduction of national education is a political mission from the central government. He said this was not the time to discuss whether to withdraw or delay the policy, but a critical moment to gain valuable experience before reviewing the way forward.

With his warped logic, Ng said that with the new curriculum not even launched, critics should not be suggesting delaying the subject. This argument is not only confusing but exceedingly insulting. It goes to show that this controversial education policy is nothing but a political mission.

Ng had earlier paid an initially unpublicised visit to Beijing to discuss the matter with senior mainland education officials.

Meanwhile, Executive Council member Anna Wu Hung-yuk has been appointed to chair the Committee on the Implementation of Moral and National Education, set up to allay public concerns over the issue.

Her willingness to be involved has put her reputation on the line. Unfortunately, she seems prepared to help the government sugar-coat a dictatorial policy and then thrust it down the throats of Hongkongers.

As an Exco member, Wu can't deny that her priority is to set and promote government policies. If that's not the case, why would she accept the appointment to chair the committee?

By trying to get people to accept the national education policy, Wu will be misusing her reputation and the great trust people have placed in her.

For starters, she is trying to mislead the public into believing that it's acceptable to allow the teaching of national education during the three-year initiation period as the programme will be reviewed three years later. She wants people to believe that the review could result in the scrapping of the subject if it proved to be unacceptable.

If that were so, why doesn't the government shelve it now when the public has so openly and strongly opposed it?

Another Exco member, Bernard Chan, has also come out to defend national education.

Chan is from a wealthy background, and therefore doesn't truly understand the harsh reality. He doesn't seem to realise that poor people don't often have a lot of options. They can't put their children into international schools or those run by the English Schools Foundation that don't impose national education on their students.

He defends the subject by saying that Hong Kong is a well-connected international city, and thus there is no way our children will be brainwashed by the national education curriculum. How naive.

This article appeared in the South China Morning Post print edition as: Official's denial that national education is a 'political mission' rings hollow