Schools should teach the Basic Law – from all perspectives
Knowledge of the mini-constitution is an integral part of understanding Hong Kong and if taught in a lively and objective manner, will not bore students
A lesson in the Basic Law is not likely to be the highlight of a student’s week. But gaining knowledge of what is effectively Hong Kong’s constitution is valuable – and it need not be dull. Most aspects of life in our city are governed by the Basic Law. It defines the relationship between Hong Kong and the central government, while also protecting our rights. The law provides the legal framework for debates on topical issues, whether it is the disappearance of booksellers or the property rights of developers. Learning about it is, therefore, an integral part of understanding Hong Kong.
It might seem a dry subject. But the story of the Basic Law’s creation, from the Sino-British Joint Declaration, through the drafting process and to its implementation after the handover in 1997, can be fascinating. There is much more to teaching it, than simply informing students of what the law actually says.
Making the subject interesting depends on teachers being given the flexibility to ensure that all the issues it raises are freely debated. What does the law mean? How should it be applied? Should parts of it be changed? These are all questions that require investigation.
It is a concern that some educators appear to feel under pressure from the government to teach the Basic Law a certain way. An official teaching kit came under fire in July 2015, with allegations it lacked objectivity. Last week, there were anxieties about planned government guidelines encouraging schools to report on the quantity and content of their Basic Law teaching.
If the guidelines are really necessary, they must not place too much of a burden on the schools. Certainly, they should not inhibit the ability of educators to teach the subject in a lively and objective manner. Officials are, no doubt, anxious to show that Basic Law teaching is being taken seriously in our schools. The best evidence of that would be students who have a sound, well-rounded understanding of the Basic Law and all the issues it raises.