Taught properly, there’s nothing to fear from national education
Young people around the world learn the history and constitution of their countries in a balanced and critical manner; Hong Kong should be no different
Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor has vowed to nurture a sense of “I am Chinese” among Hong Kong’s youth from as early as kindergarten. The pledge, which came on the eve of the 20th anniversary of the city’s reunification with China, has understandably raised concerns about how this would be achieved. Students around the world learn about the history and constitution of their countries at some stage. The Hong Kong government therefore cannot be faulted for stepping up national education and the teaching of the Basic Law, the city’s mini-constitution. As long as the subjects are not taught to brainwash our youth, there is no cause for alarm.
Earlier, a Basic Law education video for junior secondary students raised some questions. The video compares the central government to a school principal and the city’s chief executive to a form teacher. As a principal cannot manage everything in detail for every class, he or she authorises a form teacher to do the job, it explains. It does not take a constitutional expert to tell that the analogy is inappropriate. Unlike in a school environment, the city is guaranteed a “high degree of autonomy” until at least 2047. The chief executive is also locally elected and appointed by Beijing, whereas a principal’s choice of a form teacher does not involve students. There would not have been so many conflicts between Beijing and Hong Kong if administering the city was as simple as picking a form teacher to oversee a class. Our students are mature enough to understand that the relationship between the central government and the city is far more complex.
The row is reminiscent of the national education fiasco in 2012, in which the controversial curriculum was forced to be shelved amid fears that children would be brainwashed by communist ideologies. Lam hopes that our youth will become a generation that has affection for Hong Kong, a sense of national identity and a global vision. She is right in saying that an affection for Hong Kong and a national identity are not mutually exclusive.
Asked whether President Xi Jinping’s (習近平) recent remarks on “one country”and the Basic Law would affect the government’s position on national education, Kevin Yeung Yun-hung, the education minister, yesterday said he saw no need to handle Basic Law teaching differently. There is every reason for Hongkongers to know more about the country and the Basic Law. Students are no exception. But it is important that the teaching materials are presented in a comprehensive manner. If the new government intends to roll out measures to foster a stronger sense of patriotism, it should actively engage all stakeholders so as to avoid scepticism and misunderstanding.