Hong Kong schools told to play national anthem during celebrations for important dates, consider police action if serious violations occur
- Education Bureau sets out guidelines while also strongly advising schools to observe anthem rules on other events such as open day and sports day
- Principals urged to look into cases of violation or insult by teachers or students, and call in police if necessary
Schools in Hong Kong must play the Chinese anthem during celebrations for New Year’s Day, the anniversary of the city’s handover on July 1 and National Day on October 1, according to new guidelines issued by the Education Bureau.
Both local and international schools should also look into cases of students and teachers disrespecting March of the Volunteers, and can call police if the acts involve serious and deliberate insult to the anthem.
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The guidelines set out by the bureau on Thursday raised concerns from parents over the definition of an insult and the circumstances under which their children would be punished, while principals urged authorities to provide clearer instructions to schools on how they should teach students about the anthem in the curriculum.
Hong Kong’s legislature passed the national anthem bill earlier this month, with the law gazetted last Friday. Anyone convicted of misusing or insulting the anthem faces a fine of up to HK$50,000 (US$6,450) and three years in prison.
The law also requires Hong Kong’s secretary for education to give directions for the inclusion of the national anthem in the curriculum of primary and secondary schools.
Under guidelines handed out by the bureau to principals, schools must display the flags of the state and city, as well as play the national anthem, with students singing along when holding celebrations for January 1, July 1 and October 1. Previously, schools were only encouraged to do so without any mandatory requirements.
The dates are public holidays with no classes, but schools generally hold celebrations before or on the eve of the events.
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They are also strongly advised to do so during “important days and special occasions”, such as the first day of a school year, open day, graduation ceremony, a swimming gala, sports day and school anniversary events.
Teachers and students should “stand solemnly and deport themselves with dignity while the national flag and the regional flag are being raised”, according to the guidelines, which also highlighted etiquette that must be observed while the anthem is played and sung.
Schools should look into cases of teachers and students failing to follow instructions, and in serious incidents, call police if needed.
“For example, such as a teacher deliberately insulting the anthem in front of students, affecting school operations and others,” the bureau said.
Teddy Tang Chun-keung, chairman of the Hong Kong Association of the Heads of Secondary Schools, said there should be no problems following the guidelines as most secondary schools had already held flag-raising ceremonies while playing the anthem for National Day celebrations, the first day of the academic year and graduation ceremonies.
He added that on the actual public holidays themselves, some schools would also raise the flag and play the anthem without students present.
Tang said serious acts of insulting the national anthem had “seldom happened” over the past years.
“I believe through educating students, most of them would be able to follow the guidelines. Even if there are violations, as schools are institutions for learning, the first step must be to handle the incident through educational methods,” he said.
Tang also hoped the bureau could provide further information to teachers on how to educate students about the national anthem, especially during music lessons.
Wong Kam-leung, a primary school principal and chairman of the pro-establishment Federation of Education Workers, said he hoped the bureau could review the guidelines based on possible incidents faced by schools over the coming months.
He also suggested that authorities consider adding more mandatory dates over which the anthem should be played to “give more opportunities to students to foster national identity”.
But Rachel Tong Chung-yee, a spokeswoman for concern group Parents United, said some parents were worried about their children facing legal consequences from violation of the guidelines, adding that the definitions of insult could vary as the bureau did not give clear examples.
“Parents feel like it is kind of a white terror when the Education Bureau spells out advice to schools, saying they may ask for help from police … Even if children get into a fight, police may not be involved,” she said.
Ip Kin-yuen, education lawmaker and vice-president of the pro-democracy Professional Teachers’ Union, also said it was “not necessary” for the bureau to advise schools to call police under extreme circumstances.
But he believed schools would be given the space and flexibility under the guidelines to handle incidents.