Debate Over Nationalism Education in Hong Kong Continues

Despite the Hong Kong government’s decision to shelve a mandatory national education meant to promote loyalty to the country, some schools in Hong Kong are still teaching the curriculum are still teaching it a year later.

In 2012, the government announced a decision to indefinitely shelve plans to make the subject compulsory, but debate is still raging about how the subject can be taught, according to Shirley Zhao and Johnny Tam of the South China Morning Post.

At least 34 of the city’s 512 government primary schools had started teaching national education in some form, while at least 46 out of 454 secondary schools had done so by the end of last year. Despite the government’s decision, a school in Tai Kok Tsui is one of a handful to continue with national education classes.

Lessons take the form of a discussion among groups of four pupils, each of whom wears a different-coloured hat. The child in a white hat speaks on the facts of an issue, the red hat is all about feelings, the yellow is for the positive side and the black hat is for the negative. In a Primary Six class, the children discuss the influx into local schools of Hong Kong-born children living with their mainland parents across the border.

“The national education subject was to teach children to love the country,” said Ho Hon-kuen, vice-chairman of concern group Education Convergence. “It’s very different from what national education should be based on: historical facts. Patriotism can’t be taught. “Now it’s been a year since the shelving of the subject. I believe we should put the final nail in its coffin and bury it, but that doesn’t mean that the discussion on national education itself should stop.”

Elsewhere, debate continues on national education. Agnes Chow Ting, a member of student-led group Scholarism, which was at the forefront of last year’s protests, said that there is need to make the education politically neutral so pupils can build their own stances on issues.

Education Convergence’s Ho, who is also vice-principal of Elegantia College in Sheung Shui, said a worthwhile national education curriculum should be rooted in facts rather than a desire to force children to love their country. He wants Chinese history revived as a compulsory stand-alone subject for Forms One to Three of secondary school.

Parents’ activist Eva Chan is said it is “perfectly justifiable for Chinese people to learn Chinese history but its purpose should not be cultivating a sense of identification.”

Li Chin-wa, teaching fellow at the Hong Kong Institute of Education and co-author of a guidebook on civic education, said Chinese history and moral education should be incorporated into civic education, which he hopes will be taught in schools. “If children only learn history, they still don’t know the rights and responsibilities of a citizen,” he said. “Civic education has a wider sociopolitical parameter.

“We’re definitely against spoon-feeding pupils. What we want is to nurture politically literate citizens with critical, inquiring minds.”