Education experts in Hong Kong called on the government to tread carefully and ensure pupils were presented with balanced views after Beijing’s top political advisory body urged delegates to visit schools to promote mainland developments.
Educators and youth groups feared a repackaged version of the controversial national education programme, which was touted in 2012 with the aim of nurturing patriotism but scrapped after 10 days of protests amid claims it was a brainwashing exercise.
Some students vowed on Tuesday to take the discussion of sensitive topics such as Hong Kong independence into classrooms.
On Monday, an annual working report of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference Standing Committee was officially passed by more than 2,000 delegates in Beijing. It mentioned for the first time the need for resolute opposition to independence and for assisting the promotion of activities related to education of “national conditions” carried out by CPPCC members in schools.
In a radio show on Tuesday, former education minister Michael Suen Ming-yeung stressed the importance of providing pupils with balanced information.
“Students should not accept opinions from people from one [part of the] political spectrum only,” he said. “If the school could invite different people to speak, students could know an issue better.”
Suen urged authorities to communicate with schools before holding such education sessions.
Hui Hon-wing, a former secondary school teacher who has assisted the Education Bureau with curriculum development, agreed that balancing the views presented by the CPPCC was important as it tended to omit the negative elements of mainland affairs.
He hoped that schools and the Education Bureau would find ways to incorporate liberal views into the programmes, but he felt the bureau was unlikely to do so.
Secretary for Education Eddie Ng Hak-kim said on Monday he welcomed anyone who supported – and was familiar with – the Basic Law to offer assistance to schools, adding it would not just be the government and Beijing looking to enter campuses.
Tony Chung Hon-lam, convenor of Studentlocalism, a pro-independence student group, said members had been discussing inviting localists to schools to give talks.
“Recent developments of Chinese history and Basic Law education have showed that while the national education programme in 2012 was scrapped, national education is already being introduced into schools, so we have to provide alternative views for pupils,” he said.
Last year the government proposed a new junior secondary Chinese history curriculum, which some educators said focused too much on positive aspects and too little on negative aspects.
The Education Bureau is also working on guidelines for schools to set aside 15 hours for Basic Law teaching in the first three years of secondary education.
Some students and educators again slammed Beijing’s move as brainwashing, a notion dismissed by the education minister, who said: “Don’t just say it. Can anyone offer any evidence [to prove it]?”
Wong Kwan-yu, president of the pro-Beijing Federation of Education Workers, pointed out it was not a new practice for CPPCC delegates to promote national education in schools, with activities arranged by the Friends of Hong Kong Association, a group of local delegates to national bodies.
According to its website, the delegates gave more than 500 school talks from 2010 to 2015.
Ambrose Lau Hon-chuen, a CPPCC standing committee member, who has given such talks, said: “We only explain the facts and answer questions without debating or commenting on whether the systems are good or not, so the issue of brainwashing does not exist.”
Additional reporting by Tony Cheung