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Members of the school heads' association, and representatives of Policy 21 and HKU announce the survey results. Photo: Dickson Lee

About 90pc of Hong Kong secondary schools allowed pupils to join class boycotts during Occupy, study shows


Nearly 90 per cent of secondary schools received requests from pupils wanting to join class boycotts during the 79-day Occupy protests last year, but the movement did not have a long-lasting divisive effect on schools, according to a study released yesterday.

Results of the survey, conducted by research firm Policy 21 in June and July this year and jointly released by the Education Policy Unit of the University of Hong Kong and the Hong Kong Association of the Heads of Secondary Schools, were based on the replies of 131 principals and 1,411 teachers of Form Five and Six pupils from 168 secondary schools.

READ MORE: Activists mark a year since Occupy protests

According to the findings, 90 per cent of schools allowed pupils to boycott classes for a short time, with the most common forms of action being pupils having group discussions or self-study sessions within school premises. The boycotts were generally short, lasting less than five days.

Principals and teachers considered that about 10 per cent of pupils participated in the Occupy movement and another 10 per cent opposed it. Those who did not join the boycotts attended classes as normal, and schools generally ran smoothly.

On the question of handling issues concerning Occupy, 88.5 per cent of principals felt the most important factor was for schools to remain politically neutral, followed by 81.7 per cent who thought they should take the opportunity to teach pupils to think from multiple perspectives.

Principals also ranked pupils' personal safety and emotional needs as the most important factors when considering how schools should respond.

Lee Suet-ying, chairwoman of the association and principal of Ho Yu College and Primary School, said although principals preferred to remain neutral, they accepted the reality that it was impossible for schools to stay out of politics.

"Most pupils were sympathetic [towards the movement], but different stakeholders such as parents, alumni and sponsoring bodies had different thoughts about how the school should respond," said Lee. "Principals faced huge challenges when opposing political forces entered the school."

Lee added that as the purpose of education was to prepare pupils for society, the most important role of schools was to "stay impartial and teach pupils multi-perspective thinking".

The survey also showed that close to half of teachers felt Occupy did not affect pupils' academic performance, 51 per cent felt it did not affect relations between teachers and pupils, while 63.4 per cent observed that awareness of social issues had risen among their pupils.

Emeritus Professor Cheng Kai-ming, director of the Education Policy Unit, felt the survey results spoke out for principals and teachers, who came in for some criticism for infusing political beliefs in pupils during the pro- democracy movement.

"We can see that political storms can be handled with non-political methods," said Cheng. "As a result, the Occupy movement has not caused large and long-lasting distress among schools."

This article appeared in the South China Morning Post print edition as: How protests occupied pupils' minds