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Hong Kong education chief seeks to quell fears over mainland intervention in local syllabus

Concerns had been raised after news that liaison office official would meet with teachers to discuss revised curriculum

PUBLISHED : Friday, 10 November, 2017, 7:06pm
UPDATED : Friday, 10 November, 2017, 11:15pm

Hong Kong’s education minister has dismissed concerns of mainland intervention in local education after it was revealed that a top liaison office official would be meeting the city’s principals and teachers to discuss revision of the Chinese history curriculum.

The meeting comes at a ­sensitive time, as critics claim the government’s move to make the subject independent and ­compulsory at junior secondary level from next year is a veil for a renewed push of an unpopular ­patriotic curriculum.

Accusations of brainwashing were levelled at the Education ­Bureau recently after it invited secondary schools to stream a broadcast of a seminar on the city’s mini-constitution featuring Basic Law Committee chairman Li Fei later this month.

On Friday, Secretary for Education Kevin Yeung Yun-hung said he believed the meeting between educators and Professor Li Lu, the liaison office’s director general of the Education, Science and ­Technology Department, did not constitute intervention.

“According to what he said, Li would be meeting with principals to understand their views on education matters,” Yeung said.

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“I do not think that this has any effect on the education work we are doing.”

Yeung also reiterated that the city’s education policies were made by the bureau and based on students and Hong Kong’s interests.

But Chinese history teacher Chen Yan-kai, who is a deputy director for the education research department at the pan-democrat Professional Teachers’ Union, labelled the move a “serious intervention” by Beijing in education matters.

“Under the ‘one country, two systems’ principle, education is an aspect under the governance of Hong Kong, so it should be the Education Bureau speaking to the principals and teachers, instead of the liaison office,” he said.

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Chen, who was not invited to attend the meeting, called it an unprecedented event.

He was also concerned about the pressure placed on the Hong Kong government and teachers, which could affect the latter group’s teaching and opinions during the consultation process.

Li said after a sharing session last Saturday that he had arranged a meeting with principals and teachers to hear their views on the revision of the city’s Chinese history curriculum. He added that the meeting was nothing out of the ordinary.

The bureau is currently organising the second stage of a consultation for the revised Chinese history syllabus.

In the first round, the government drew flak for focusing too much on positive aspects such as unification and prosperity, and too little on negative aspects such as the disorder and fall of different eras.

Some of these negative topics were reintroduced in the second draft, with the government adding teachers and textbook publishers could decide how to broach the more controversial chapters of Chinese history. But neither the Tiananmen Square crackdown nor Hong Kong’s 1967 riots were mentioned in the revised syllabus.

Li said anything in China’s 5,000-year history could be discussed, and it was up to the teachers whether the two events would be taught.