Hong Kong teachers ‘free to critique’ mainland China’s legal and political systems

  • Education secretary Kevin Yeung says discussing negative aspects of the government is allowed under the new liberal studies changes as long as it is objective
  • He made the statement shortly after guidelines for teaching the national security law were released

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Students form a human chain last June marking the anniversary of the start of the 2019 anti-government protests. Photo: SCMP/ Sam Tsang

Teachers in Hong Kong can still discuss the drawbacks of mainland China’s political and legal systems after the proposed revamp of liberal studies, said Secretary for Education Kevin Yeung Yun-hung.

Yeung said that teachers had the right to engage students in “objective and factual” analysis following the release of a consultation paper on revamping the subject, which would include covering the “achievements of the nation” in areas such as high-end technologies and alleviating poverty.

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The subject, which is mandatory for senior secondary students, will be renamed and relaunched in September at the earliest, after being plagued by controversy in recent years .

Under the proposed remodelling of the subject, more than half of the course would be dedicated to topics relating to national security, identity, lawfulness and patriotism.

“During discussions in classrooms, when [teachers] touch on the economic and technological development of mainland China, whether they would also bring along problems, of course it would be allowed,” Yeung told a television show broadcast on Sunday.

Hong Kong’s education minister Kevin Yeung. Photo: SCMP/ Nora Tam

Asked whether the shortcomings of the mainland’s political and legal systems – such as a lack of prison visitation rights by families in politically sensitive cases – could also be touched on in lessons following the revamp, Yeung said such discussions would be allowed as long as they were “based on objective and factual information”.

“On the difference of the legal system between Hong Kong and China, it is actually a good opportunity to let [students] know there are differences under the one country, two systems framework.”

He added: “But whether which system is better, there is no definite answer. Students can rationally analyse the pros and cons of the two systems based on [objective facts] … such that they can eventually reach their own judgement.”

Students have mixed reactions to the liberal studies revamp

But Tin Fong-chak, a veteran liberal studies teacher and vice-president of the Professional Teachers’ Union, said teachers did not feel reassured by Yeung’s remarks, while raising concerns that more educators might be inclined to self-censor following the relaunch.

“Teachers might be even more discreet with the introduction of this overhaul. They may avoid discussing sensitive issues, and when students raise questions in classrooms … they may be hesitant to share their own thoughts,” Tin said.

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Changes to the subject also require mandatory vetting of all textbooks by publishers. Given the tight timeline before the first batch of students start the new syllabus in September, Yeung said the Education Bureau will provide more teaching materials for schools to use in the coming months.

The minister also rejected claims that the reforms are an attempt to reintroduce an independent national education subject, although he said more information about national development and security is needed in various subjects.

Yeung said the government will hold soon forums and briefings for schools to familiarise them with the guidelines and give staff members an opportunity to ask questions.

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