Hong Kong government announces plan to advise publishers of liberal studies textbooks, citing the protests as a reason

South China Morning Post

The Education Bureau announced the plan, saying some are concerned certain books are misleading students and spreading bias

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In July, former Chief Executive Tung Chee-hwa blamed liberal studies for encouraging violent protests among Hong Kong youngsters.

A plan announced by the Hong Kong government to advise publishers of liberal studies texbooks has brought about mixed reactions. Some fear it could lead to political censorship, while others think it is a step in the right direction.

The Education Bureau announced the plan on Monday, citing worries among a section of the public that certain liberal studies textbooks “have misled students and spread hatred and bias” amid the ongoing social unrest.

The bureau also said it would consider the possibility of requiring publishers to submit their liberal studies textbooks for scrutiny in the long run, to eventually come up with a list of recommended textbooks.

Teachers want liberal studies to remain compulsory, but students have mixed feelings

Former Hong Kong leader Tung Chee-hwa, now vice-chairman of China’s top political advisory body, in July blamed liberal studies, which aims to enhance students’ social awareness, for encouraging violent protests among youngsters. But education officials refuted the criticism.

The bureau on Tuesday said it took the decision after discussing with the members of the Hong Kong Association of Professional Education Publishing, who supported the move. It also assured that the advisory would not involve any political consideration.

Seven publishers that the SCMP tried to contact over the matter either declined to comment or could not be reached by press time.

In July, former Chief Executive Tung Chee-hwa blamed liberal studies for encouraging violent protests among Hong Kong youngsters.
Photo: SCMP/ K.Y. Cheng

Ip Kin-yuen, the lawmaker who represents the education sector, said: “The current political sentiment naturally makes us worry that this [move] may involve political censorship. The Education Bureau needs to provide more details to eliminate citizens’ concerns.”

He admitted that information on who would offer the advice, the criteria for the textbooks, as well as whether the consultation would affect the sales of the books, were crucial.

Liberal studies teacher Kwan Chin-ki worried the consultation process could slow down the speed at which publishers updated the content in the books, which was crucial for studying current affairs.
 
“The advisory may not be as effective as people would expect it to be,” Kwan said.
 
Lawmaker Ip Kin-yuen says he is nervous that government advice could lead to political censorship.
Photo: SCMP/ Sam Tsang

Another liberal studies teacher, Cheung Yui-fai, found the entire consultation process “an unnecessary arrangement”.

“From a professional perspective, we don’t see any need for it. The move will only make people worry whether the government would censor textbooks selectively,” Cheung said.
 
But some teachers welcomed the move and said the current textbooks often contained biases that should to be corrected.
 
“It is a step forward,” Wong Kam-leung, school principal and chairman of Hong Kong Federation of Education Workers, said.
 
 
Wong believed some textbooks had a negative impact on the students’ perception of their political identity and their sense of belonging to the country.
 
“I’m very sad to see young people holding American or British flags during the ongoing protests. This shouldn’t happen if they are able to see their country in a fair and balanced way,” Wong said.
 
Some school principals in the New Territories also supported the move.
 
Some lawmakers have blamed the liberal studies curriculum for the current political unrest in Hong Kong.
Photo: SCMP/ Felix Wong

“We have noticed some unexpected content in certain liberal studies textbooks, which makes us worry that they may mislead young people,” the New Territories School Heads Association said in a statement on Tuesday.

Teddy Tang Chun-keung, chairman of the Hong Kong Association of the Heads of Secondary Schools, urged the Education Bureau to be more transparent in its process, though he thought the measure could help alleviate concerns over the negative impact of liberal studies on young people.
 
“The most important thing is to restore our trust. We need to have more trust, communication and transparency,” he said.
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