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Hong Kong schools

Teaching controversial parts of Chinese history ‘up to textbook publishers and teachers’ in Hong Kong

Education Bureau says curriculum will only list ‘key points’ in history and teachers should decide which events to focus on to realise their ‘teaching goals’

PUBLISHED : Monday, 30 October, 2017, 6:03pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 31 October, 2017, 2:29am

Hong Kong’s junior secondary school pupils will spend less time on ancient Chinese history and more on political, economic and social developments related to modern China and the city, according to the revised curriculum unveiled by the Education Bureau on Monday.

Teachers and textbook publishers will also be given freedom to decide how to broach the more controversial chapters of Chinese history, with neither the Tiananmen Square crackdown nor Hong Kong’s 1967 riots mentioned in the revised syllabus.

The government launched a second round of public consultation on Monday as it reintroduced some of the “negative” topics, such as the decline of dynasties, in the revised curriculum after its first draft sparked backlash.

New compulsory Chinese history lessons will not ignore Hong Kong’s role in China’s past

The proposed changes would see Form Three pupils spending a whole year on modern Chinese history, studying events ranging from the Chinese Revolution of 1911 revolution to the establishment of Hong Kong as a special administrative region in 1997.

Relations between Hong Kong and mainland China since 1949, Sino-British negotiations on the handover of Hong Kong to China, and the establishment of the Basic Law, the city’s mini-constitution, would also be on the syllabus.

Pupils would have to complete within two years the syllabus on ancient history and the different dynasties that ruled ancient China.

More than 75 per cent of total class time would be spent on political history under the new syllabus, compared with some 65 per cent suggested in the first draft of the revised syllabus last year.

Around 14 per cent would be dedicated to cultural history while another 10 per cent would be taken up by Hong Kong’s role and development.

Lee Wai-hung, chairman of the Association of Chinese History Teachers, welcomed the revised curriculum, saying the government had accepted the recommendations made by teachers during the first round of public consultation.

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“We were concerned about the insufficient coverage on political history which has too little emphasis on the negatives, such as the disorder and decline of different eras,” Lee said. “The government has now trimmed down the coverage on cultural history to make way for those [missing] parts.”

But some frontline teachers feared they would not have enough time to complete the full Chinese history syllabus, and questioned whether 50 classes could be guaranteed by schools per year.

“Although the government has now shrunk the scope of ancient history for modern history, it has at the same time boosted coverage on the cultural and Hong Kong parts,” said Chen Yan-kai, deputy director of education research for the Professional Teachers’ Union. “I am afraid teachers at the end would still have to go through it briefly.”

Another talking point was whether controversial issues which were not included in the syllabus, such as the 1967 riots, should be taught.

The Education Bureau’s chief curriculum development officer, Gloria Chan Pik-wah, suggested textbook publishers and teachers should decide which historical events to examine in realising their teaching goals.

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“They are required to teach in a manner that is unbiased, fact-based and objective, using their professional judgment,” she said.

Deputy Secretary for Education Hong Chan Tsui-wah noted that the new curriculum only set the framework laying out key points,as opposed to stipulating which specific events in history should be taught in classrooms.

History teacher Lee said he preferred the 1967 riots to be included in the curriculum as it would allow pupils to study such a significant incident from a historical perspective, offering them a comprehensive picture free from any political agenda.

Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor has announced that all Hong Kong secondary schools would teach Chinese history as an independent compulsory subject at the junior levels from next year in a bid to equip pupils with a sense of national identity.

The second stage of public consultation on the subject will run until the end of November, and the new syllabus is expected to take effect in the 2020 school year.