National education in Hong Kong
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HKU students wear black ribbons to protest against national education. Photo: Jonathan Wong

National education must be scrapped, church groups say

Two church groups representing schools say even though the subject is no longer mandatory, educators might still face pressure to teach it

Two church bodies have urged the government to scrap national education guidelines and send the curriculum back to the drawing board, to avoid schools coming under any pressure to teach the subject.

The Anglican Church - known as the Sheng Kung Hui - and the Council of the Church of Christ in China said yesterday that the concessions Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying made in withdrawing mandatory lessons failed to allay their worries.

The two sponsoring bodies, which represent about 150 primary and secondary schools in total, said their schools would not use the government funding that had been granted for the subject.

Leung scrapped a three-year deadline for implementation on Saturday, saying schools were free to choose independently whether to teach the subject. The government would review the subject's guidelines, he said.

Timothy Ha Wing-ho, education adviser to Sheng Kung Hui, said he welcomed Leung's U-turn, but as long as the guidelines existed, schools still faced the risk of being pressured to teach the subject.

"The guidelines leave loose ends to tie up," Ha said, without commenting on where the pressure might come from.

He said schools under the church already had moral education. The church would study the feasibility of teaching uncontroversial elements of national education, such as Chinese history, "but there's no time frame".

The Hong Kong Council of the Church of Christ in China said on its website that the Education Bureau should withdraw the curriculum and its guidelines to "allay concerns from parents, teachers and pupils".

It urged the government to consult the public on the matter.

The Catholic Diocese could not be reached for comment.

Education minister Eddie Ng Hak-kim said controversial materials such as information on contemporary China had been removed from the curriculum guide.

He said the bureau issued the guide in April and had nothing to do with materials circulating in public.

Critics of national education are concerned with the teaching guide, which contains no mention of the Cultural Revolution or the June 4, 1989, crackdown in Tiananmen Square and portrays a centralised political regime as a "selfless" contributor to stability.

Ng was speaking at a Teachers' Day and commendation ceremony organised by the Education Bureau, at which many teachers were dressed in black - signifying opposition to national education lessons.

Tens of thousands of protesters demonstrated at the government headquarters in Admiralty last week, compared with only about 30 in a rally on Tuesday supporting the subject.

Ng said: "The number of people is not important. The important thing is to facilitate discussions between parents, school and the government."

This article appeared in the South China Morning Post print edition as: 'Scrap national education guidelines'