Controversy in HK over plan to educate students on national security

HONG KONG – The government’s announcement that students from the age of six will be taught the dangers of subversion and foreign interference has been controversial, with many teachers questioning the move.

Late last Thursday (Feb 4), the Education Bureau released guidelines which stated that primary school pupils should learn about the basic concepts of national security, including subversion, secession, terrorism and collusion with foreign forces.

They would also be taught on how to sing and “respectfully listen” to the national anthem and about the role of the police and the People’s Liberation Army as “protectors” of Hong Kong.

Older students in secondary schools would be taught that existing rights and freedoms were not unlimited and be educated more in depth on the offences related to national security. They would also be told about the challenges China faces and the opportunities the mainland presents.

National security would be taught through a variety of subjects, including Chinese history, civic education, geography and biology.

Local educator Chan Hei Tung, 30, said teachers were not surprised about having to teach the concept in schools but he believed it may be “too demanding for a six-year-old to know about complicated concepts such as interference or subversion”.

“Teaching students just based on what the government instructs is contradictory to the educational principles of understanding diversified points of views and nurturing critical thinking,” Mr Chan said.

Both Mr Chan and the head of the Professional Teachers’ Union, Mr Ip Kin Yuen, warned about fostering group think.

Mr Chan said Hong Kong students “may simply write you the answer you want in class or homework, but express their own views on the Internet”. This, he believed, could end up being more “dangerous” as teachers were not able to monitor those views and provide feedback.

Mr Ip was quoted in local media saying that the guidelines would promote an education system that was restrictive and did not foster independent thinking, adding that they would lead to “uncertainty, ambiguity and anxiety” for teachers.

Public schools have to follow the bureau’s framework on the curriculum but international and private schools are encouraged to follow the guidelines “to help their students (regardless of their ethnicity and nationality) acquire a correct and objective understanding and apprehension of the concept of national security”.

A parent, Mrs Julie Thomas, who is in her late 30s, questioned the need for the new rule.

“If it doesn’t enhance learning or help to meet learning milestones per age group – aimed at preparing them, and getting kids equipped with knowledge to adapt to primary school level learning – what is the value and outcomes the Education Bureau expect to shape in the minds of the young and curious?

“I surely don’t want to teach my kids the dangers of expressing divergent views,” she said.

But, another parent with two children in private schools, who did not want to be identified, thought it was “good to learn about what the rules are in the territory”.

“Every territory has its own rules. If we don’t like it, we will move. I don’t think the parents who put their kids in international schools are bothered much as they have choices, but Hong Kongers will feel angry that the world they know is changing,” he said.

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Under the guidelines, schools were urged to organise various game activities such as puppet theatre and board games to improve students’ understanding of the security law.

Those in kindergartens should learn about traditional festivals, music and arts, and develop fondness for Chinese customs to “lay the foundation for national security education”.

The guidelines also stated that schools were responsible for stopping students and teachers from participating in activities viewed as political, such as singing protest songs or wearing badges to show support for the protests in 2019 and forming human chains or shouting slogans.

Teachers and principals were required to inspect noticeboards, remove books that endanger national security from libraries and call the police if they suspect any breaches.

Beijing imposed the national security law on Hong Kong in June 2020 after the city’s leader failed to quell the unrest in the preceding year. Mainland and pro-establishment Hong Kong officials blamed the months of protests on students who they said were misled by foreign forces.

The police said that as at Feb 1, 97 people have been arrested under the law, with eight people prosecuted.

Local media have quoted some legal scholars in the city as saying the language in the law was broad and ambiguous, which, in turn, meant that what could be deemed as breaches were wide-ranging.

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