Carrie Lam walking a tightrope on national education

A well-designed history programme may just be what is needed to balance between patriotic education and opposition ideology

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 01 November, 2017, 12:36am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 01 November, 2017, 12:36am

Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor knows where the political landmines are. And one of the biggest has been Beijing’s agenda for national education in Hong Kong.

Her predecessor, Leung Chun-ying, stepped on that one the first month he took office as chief executive in 2012. Lam is determined not to make the same mistake.

This means, I gather, saying all the right things about patriotism, national identity and our proud Chinese heritage for her audience in Beijing without introducing radical changes within the local education system.

Compulsory Chinese history lessons to cover Hong Kong’s past

Her administration has been busy pushing for expanded teaching on the Basic Law and making Chinese history a mandatory subject throughout secondary school. These may be enough to suspend, or at least, postpone the introduction of full-fledged national education in our schools. It’s hard to fault the teaching of civic education, of which the city’s constitution is indubitably a part. And Chinese history had been a mandatory subject, even during colonial times, until more recent curriculum changes.

So, to those in the opposition who have been claiming her administration is trying to reintroduce national education through the back door, I prefer to give Lam the benefit of the doubt.

The central government has been putting on pressure. Education Minister Chen Baosheng has said Hong Kong teachers need a stronger sense of national identity and that the city had a duty to implement national education.

Soon after, the local Education Bureau “invited” schools to broadcast live a forum on the Basic Law to be attended by senior Beijing officials this month.

Lawmakers grill education chief over revised history syllabus

The proposed Chinese history guidelines released this week for the second-stage consultation look set to avoid a major row. One reason is that they have incorporated substantial changes after criticism from teachers and professional educators. In the first-stage consultation, the proportions of political/dynastic changes (rise and decline), Chinese culture and Hong Kong development were respectively 65 per cent, 25 per cent and 10 per cent. After criticism that political decline deserves more class time, these have been changed to 76 per cent, 14 per cent and 10 per cent.

While there are no formal mentions of the 1989 Tiananmen Square crackdown or the 1967 riots in Hong Kong, bureau officials said publishers and teachers were free to introduce such topics.

A well-designed history programme may just be what is needed to balance between patriotic education and opposition ideology.