The Controversies of Moral, Civic, and National Education in Hong Kong

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Civic education seems an indispensable element for the citizens in most of the nations. Some countries may refer to it as “Citizenship Education” or “National Education.” According to Branson and Quigley (1998), civic education in a democracy is education to encourage citizens to become actively involved in their own governance. In other words, citizens should have critical mindset and not just passively accept the demands of others.  It includes the study of civic law and civic code, and the study of government with attention to the roles, rights, and duties of citizens in the operation and oversight of government.

Ideally, democracy is fully realized when every member of the political community shares in its governance. Members of the political body are its citizens and membership implies participation. Citizens’ participation in a democratic society must be based on informed, critical reflection, and on the understanding and acceptance of the rights and responsibilities that go with that membership.[1] The goal is to engage citizens to be actively involved in the governance or politics and cultivate their positive attitudes towards their own country.

Not surprisingly, the introduction of Moral, Civic, and National Education into Hong Kong’s public school curriculums through Chief Executive Donald Tsang’s “Policy Address 2010-2011” has raised a lot of controversy in the society, especially in the academic arena. The HKSAR Government planned to implement the reform in various stages by initially introducing a new subject in primary schools in 2012 and then in secondary schools in 2013.[2] Notwithstanding a gradual implementation approach, there have been waves of demonstrations by parents, teachers, and students. During the peak day on July 29, 2012, 90,000 people (or 32,000 according to the government’s estimates) went on the streets to demonstrate in super hot and humid weather.[3] The protesters firmly believed that the main political motivation behind Chinese Central Government in Beijing was to use Moral, Civic, and National Education as a tool to “brainwash” the citizens in Hong Kong with its communist ideology. They were afraid that the degree of freedom in this special administrative region would be gradually limited or eventually diminished. The demonstration had even caught international attention through the mass media such as New York Times, NBC, CNN, or BBC news.

 

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The main reason for this controversy was that people in Hong Kong have been suffering from an identity crisis after a century of British rule. Annually, the University of Hong Kong implements a public survey through Public Opinion Program to keep track of the progress of the citizens’ identity. In the questionnaire, one of the questions directly asks about the self-perception of identity among the people of Hong Kong, with the following multiple choices available as a possible response: “Hong Kong Citizen,” “Chinese Citizen,” “Hong Kong Chinese Citizen,” “Chinese Hong Kong Citizen,” “Other,” “Don’t Know / hard to say,” or “Refuse to answer.”[4] Most of the Hong Kong citizens always distinguish themselves from the Mainland Chinese.

Ironically, most Hong Kong people are actually the early settlers from China. As students during the British colonial era, however, we did not study anything about a national identity associated with China. We can see that education is a powerful socialized tool to influence one’s mind. After handover to the Chinese regime in 1997, we have witnessed a series of ongoing clashes between Hong Kong and Mainland China in political, economic, and cultural aspects. More and more conflicts between these two places have surfaced with the massive coverage of media every day.

In introducing Moral, Civic, and National Education in Hong Kong, different actors played an active role behind the scenes – including the Chinese Central Government, the Hong Kong SAR Government, various political parties, educators, and youth (students) – all with their own interests and agendas. This created a divisive scenario, i.e. Chinese Central Government, the Hong Kong SAR Government, pro-Chinese political parties, educators, and students, on one side, and demonstrators against them, on another side. Some youth put their health at risk by going on hunger strike outside the government headquarters for days and days to illustrate the intensity of their anger, although some critics believed that political parties paid students for going on strike. Later, the hunger strike included teachers, a parent, and even a retired professor.[5] Following the serious resistance and criticism from the broader community, the government finally was willing to delay the introduction of the new school subject by suggesting a three-year trial run period, allowing the schools to start, at the latest, in 2015 after consultation and major amendments of some sensitive terms.[6]

 

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Moreover, there have been divergent views towards Moral, Civic, and National Education among the community-at-large and the official website of the Education Bureau of the HKSAR Government. It seemed that Education Bureau of the HKSAR Government has included civic education in a very subtle way. The website says that the new subject could develop students’ ability to analyze and judge issues relating to personal, family, social, national, and global issues at different developmental stages, and increase their motivation to make commitment and contribution. The areas will include current issues, moral education, national education, life education, values education, basic law education, health education, sex education, environmental education, and human rights education.[7] Conversely, the public may believe that it would be chiefly to promote national education and enhance students’ understanding of China and national identity.[8]

This education reform literally reflected how little trust Hong Kong citizens have in the Chinese Central government. It may also show how frightened the next generation is about convergence with the motherland, Mainland China. From my own perspective, this trend is just unavoidable as it is a way for Hong Kong to have a better integration. The influence from China overall will be further intensified in the coming decades. Hong Kong people just cannot deny the fact that we have to depend much on China, particularly in the economic development. At the very least, we have to deal with the influx of increasingly large numbers of Mainland Chinese tourists every day. Hence, we have a saying: “Hong Kong people have dual feelings towards China, both hatred and loving emotions.”

 

[1] Branson, M.S. & Quigley, C.N. (1998). The Role of Civic Education. George Washington University. Retrieved on April 4, 2014, from http://www.gwu.edu/~ccps/pop_civ.html

[2] Liu, J. (2012, August 31). Hong Kong debates ‘national education’ classes. The BBC. Retrieved on April 4, 2014, from http://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-china-19407425

[3] Lai, A. (2012, July 30). National education’ raises furor in Hong Kong.  Cable News Network. Retrieved on April 4, 2014, from http://www.cnn.com/2012/07/30/world/asia/hong-kong-national-education-controversy/

[4] University of Hong Kong (2014). Public Opinion Program. Retrieved on April 4, 2014, from http://hkupop.hku.hk/english/popexpress/qre/tp1312075_18.html

[5] Lai, A. (2012, September 4). Hong Kong school year starts hunger strikes.  Cable News Network. Retrieved on April 4, 2014,from http://www.cnn.com/2012/09/04/world/asia/hong-kong-national-education-protests/

[6] Chong & Tam (2012, October 9). Controversial guidelines on national education shelved. South China Morning Post Publishers Ltd. Retrieved on April 4, 2014, from http://www.scmp.com/news/hong-kong/article/1056653/controversial-guidelines-national-education-shelved

[7] Education Bureau of the HKSAR Government (2014). Moral, Civic and National Education. Retrieved on April 4, 2014, from   http://www.edb.gov.hk/en/curriculum-development/4-key-tasks/moral-civic/index.html

[8] International Business Times (2012, September 6). Hong Kong Protestors of National Education Wary of Integration with Mainland China. Retrieved on April 4, 2014, from http://www.ibtimes.com/hong-kong-protesters-national-education-wary-integration-mainland-china-780011

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2 thoughts on “The Controversies of Moral, Civic, and National Education in Hong Kong

    • Yes! It has been fascinating to witness the developments of HK under the Chinese Central governmental rule with continuous dichotomy in ideologies between groups, though “One Country, Two Systems” for HK has been agreed between China and Great Britain before the handover… Let’s see what next will be going on!

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