Sat, Jun 09, 2018 - Page 6 News List

Education becomes political battlefield in HK

AFP, HONG KONG

The culling of key phrases from a history textbook and a push to instill Chinese national identity in students has raised fresh concerns that education in Hong Kong is under pressure from Beijing, as it seeks to stamp out any hint of pro-independence sentiment.

Student-led protests demanding democratic reform for semi-autonomous Hong Kong and the emergence of an independence movement have posed an unprecedented challenge to Chinese authorities over the past few years.

To quell youth rebellion, officials on both sides of the border are emphasizing the need for students in the territory to learn more about China’s history and to understand Hong Kong in a national context.

However, critics have accused the government and Beijing of “brainwashing.”

The blacklisting last month of commonly used terms in a school textbook raised questions about whether history was being rewritten altogether.

“Our concern is about whether there is direct interference or if there is any self-censorship involved,” said Ip Kin-yuen (葉建源), lawmaker for the education sector and a democracy advocate.

A review panel reporting to the Hong Kong Education Bureau rejected as “inappropriate wording” phrases referring to Hong Kong’s colonial past in a history textbook that had been submitted for approval before publication, documents leaked to local media showed.

The offending terms included “the transfer of Hong Kong’s sovereignty to mainland China” and “China recovered Hong Kong.”

Questioned about the amendments, Hong Kong Secretary for Education Kevin Yeung (楊潤雄) told lawmakers that China had never given up sovereignty of Hong Kong.

Some pro-democracy figures accused him of doing Beijing’s bidding and erasing Hong Kong’s past.

Schoolbooks must be passed by a review panel to gain inclusion on the government’s recommended reading list.

Panel membership is confidential, but includes teachers, academics and staff from the bureau, which has defended the review system as a fair “professional” process.

Concerns about Beijing’s influence on Hong Kong’s book industry were fueled after an investigation by public broadcaster Radio Television Hong Kong discovered that China’s liaison office indirectly owned more than half the city’s bookshops.

Earlier attempts to introduce a patriotic “national education” curriculum into Hong Kong schools galvanized tens of thousands to take to the streets in 2012, forcing it to be shelved.

However, the push to instill a sense of Chinese national identity is now regaining prominence in government rhetoric.

In her first policy address last year, Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam (林鄭月娥) announced that Chinese history would be taught as a compulsory subject at the junior-high school level from the end of this year.

This would help students become knowledgeable and responsible citizens “with a sense of our national identity, and contribute to our country and our society,” she said.

A new draft of the Chinese history curriculum released last month puts Hong Kong’s past within a national context, an approach the bureau said was “natural, reasonable and logical” and supported by teachers.

However, democracy campaigner Joshua Wong (黃之鋒) told reporters that he believed the government was using “subtler ways to promote their brainwashing education.”

Pro-establishment politicians have also taken aim at liberal studies, a mandatory subject for senior-high school students that covers political topics and has been blamed for stoking anti-government sentiment.

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