Hong Kong localism and independence

Allow debate on independence in Hong Kong schools – as long as the goal is to foster understanding

Anjali Hazari says we can learn from the US controversy over teaching evolutionary biology in schools; teachers need not shy away from the contentious topic of localism if the aim is to educate students

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 01 September, 2016, 10:55am
UPDATED : Thursday, 01 September, 2016, 7:52pm

How do we reconcile Article 1 of the Basic law, that the special administrative region is an inalienable part of China, and Article 27, which states that our students, and all others in Hong Kong, shall have freedom of speech?

Issues in this debate are getting confused. Whether outside groups should be allowed to advocate localism in schools, and whether this would be a threat to national security, is a separate issue from whether teachers should allow students to discuss localism in their classrooms. Encouraging debate among students should also be distinguished from encouraging talk on the independence movement.

‘Violent’ actions inevitable result of Hong Kong independence talk in schools, senior official warns

To me, this has a parallel with the controversy of teaching evolutionary biology in American schools. The First Amendment in the US Constitution calls for “a wall of separation between church and state” and ruled that the biblical narrative of the universe has no place in science classrooms.

However, because the boundary of this separation is ill-defined, there has been a contentious debate on whether the theory of intelligent design to explain the origin of life has a place next to Darwin’s theory of evolution. Are living things not a consequence of random natural selection, but best explained by the intelligent design theory? More importantly, are such debates beneficial to student learning?

Why Hong Kong schools provide an ideal platform for discussion of independence, and other contentious issues

Court cases in the US have contested various interpretations of the limits of the liberties allowed under the First Amendment. Thus, some states in the US have developed science standards that include learning about some of the controversies relating to evolution.

Professor David K. DeWolf, who has provided a summary of the law on teaching evolution in schools, cites US Supreme Court precedents that “teaching a variety of scientific theories about the origins of humankind to schoolchildren might be validly done with the clear secular intent of enhancing the effectiveness of science instruction”.

At least to a biology teacher, therein lies the solution. The test of constitutionality can be met by allowing debate in classrooms. Discussing why Hong Kong is an inalienable part of China and how localist groups differ in their visions for the future of Hong Kong can satisfy the goals of improving students’ critical thinking and communication skills.

Does this give a teacher an opportunity to exploit his or her class to promote personal views on localism? Isn’t that what school supervisors are for?

Academic freedom requires teachers to avoid even the slightest perception of exploiting an obligatory audience.

Anjali Hazari teaches IB and IGCSE biology at the French international school. She also writes extensively on education policy, practice and reform