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Global Times

Hong Kong education at fault

Global Times

By Wang Wenwen and Chen Qingqing in Hong Kong Source:Global Times Published: 2019/8/28 23:48:40

Official suggests Hongkongers learn from national curriculum

Anti-government groups in Hong Kong have called for school strikes as the new semester begins on Monday, and a 12-year-old boy was found to be the youngest protester arrested at recent violent street clashes.

Parents, schoolteachers and experts are calling for deep reflection on what is wrong with the city's education system.

While black-clad protesters returned to the streets for the 12th straight weekend, opposition forces have come up with new posters instigating university and secondary school students to join the strike from September 2 to September 13 as a way of pressuring the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (HKSAR) government into responding to their so-called five demands.

School students are major groups in the anti-extradition bill protests of the past two months and the average age of those protesters appears lower than those who joined the 2014 Occupy Movement.

In some universities and across the city, the Global Times reporters saw that the Lennon Walls, a so-called space for free expression, encouragement and solidarity, are not only filled with messages advocating values, but also curses, nasty words and unimaginable illustrations.

More parents and school teachers are now looking into the question of why more teenagers go out and fight the government in the streets, and some even used violence as a means to protest.

Liberal studies blamed

Police have so far arrested 15 people under 16 years old for violent attacks, holding offensive weapons and unlawful assembly, according to the latest statistics provided by the Hong Kong Police Force at a press conference on Tuesday.

The youngest was 12, which was seen as shocking by the majority of Hongkongers. The protester had taken lethal weapons such as an iron branch when arrested.

Former HKSAR government chief executive Tung Chee-hwa criticized the liberal studies curriculum, introduced as compulsory for all upper secondary schools in July 2009, according to media reports.

Tung blamed the curriculum as one of the reasons for causing youth problems today.

The Global Times reporters talked with parents of secondary and college students over the past month. Some said they were shocked and saddened by problems in Hong Kong's education system, which they think needed to be changed as soon as possible.

"We read one of the textbooks for liberal studies thoroughly a few years ago which included much anti-mainland content," a Hong Kong resident told the Global Times on condition of anonymity.

"The textbook is designed to strengthen student's critical thinking, but without teaching them how to think in a rational and reasonable way."

The mother of an 11-year-old student told the Global Times that her son was bullied in school as he came from the mainland.

The mother said she worried that bullying would worsen in the new semester as she heard "many teachers from the school participated in anti-government protests."

The mother said she was disappointed with Hong Kong's education system and was considering transferring her son back to adjacent Guangdong Province.

There are two types of liberal studies textbooks: One is provided by the publisher and one is decided by schools, and some schools may adopt both publishers' textbooks and its own teaching materials, a teacher of liberal studies surnamed Wong told the Global Times.

"Because it usually lacks a review mechanism for those textbooks, it depends on the head of the liberal studies department of each school to decide how to teach students," he said.

If a teacher intends to influence his students with his own political views, it is easy to do through the curriculum, he said.

Although there is no evidence that the rising violence of teenagers amid anti-government protests is directly related to liberal studies, there are reports suggesting that some teachers, with their biased political positions, have seriously affected their students, who are likely to be aggressive on social issues.

The mother of the 11-year-old said the teacher of her son had played so-called documentaries about China's alleged "tyranny," which frightened many in the class into tears.

She said her son was isolated by other students when he said students should not get too involved in politics.

In one textbook published by Ming Pao Publications Ltd, there are more than 10 topics about current issues including the National Anthem Law in Hong Kong and the debate about the Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macao Bridge.

While those topics lead to open questions, the textbook suggests answers with more negative than positive arguments.

For instance, on the Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macao Bridge, the textbook offers arguments that the mainland would not be a suitable place for Hongkongers due to its lack of freedom of information, food safety and divergences in values.

Tang Fei, a principal at Hong Kong's Heung To Secondary School (Tseung Kwan O), told the Global Times that when Hong Kong had not been "fully de-colonized" and the entire society including ordinary people and the media have "not established a complete understanding of the country, students can easily have a favorable impression of British colonial times.

Youngsters' understanding of this period of history, Tang noted, "may be reinforced through "open" liberal studies. Therefore they hardly recognize their national identity, he said.

Teachers the key

Hong Kong student Wang Yiming took Hong Kong's Diploma of Secondary Education Examination this summer and has been enrolled at Peking University.

Wang told the Global Times that the liberal studies materials he read have indeed helped Hong Kong students understand the mainland, including achievements such as the Belt and Road Initiative as well as economic development and problems such as environmental pollution and income gap.

He believed teachers of general education are the key.

"Teachers' stance can easily influence us," Wang said. "If they simply belittle the mainland and focus on bad things in the mainland, students will accept their views unconsciously and have a negative impression of the mainland."

But only a minority of teachers would do that, Wang said.

The position of faculties who teach general education "should be diversified rather than being taken by politically radical staff for a long time," Tang said.

Tang said that political subjects involve extensive professional knowledge of politics and law, "which could be beyond the understanding of teenagers." The political subjects enlighten an untimely interest in politics among young people, "like sexual precocity," he explained.

The term "national education" has been demonized in Hong Kong, he said. Primary and secondary schools in Hong Kong should teach the Chinese mainland curriculum as students should learn a solid foundation of basic values at schools, Tang believed.

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