CATHOLIC NEWS OF THE WEEK . Sunday, 1 September 2019

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Pro-independence gains traction in high schools

HONG KONG (UCAN): In a short period of less than two years, what is seen as repressive political policies from the Hong Kong government has transformed a younger generation from being a group mostly interested in freeing up free speech and wanting a bigger say in local affairs into one with an increasing desire to see the special administrative region of China become independent.

The latest battlefield identified has become local high schools with at least 21 of them—five Catholic—forming groups advocating independence from the mainland.

Studentlocalism, a pro-independence movement, is making headway in local schools by encouraging students to form advocacy groups and use their student unions to advocate for independence from Beijing, whose rule is becoming more widely resented in the special administrative region.

The administrator of a localism Facebook page for students of St. Joseph’s Anglo-Chinese School said they want to spread the message, rouse their classmates and encourage debate on the issue.

“Hong Kong students should be concerned about the destiny of their city,” the administrator, who does not want to be named, said. “Independence relates to every student. Why can’t we discuss it? The school is a place for us to share knowledge. We have freedom of speech.”

The administrator claimed that he and other members of the group are currently students at the diocesan-run school and they are in league with Studentlocalism. However, the school administration claims, “They may just be graduates.”

Poon Wing-keung, the principal of St. Joseph’s, commented, “Our teachers have checked the Facebook page and have asked the students directly. Until now, none of the teachers’ reports show that the group is run by current students.”

He added, “We cannot intervene on things done by graduates outside the school. But we certainly don’t tolerant these kind of groups on campus.”

The principal conceded that Hong Kong independence could be discussed in school from an academic point of view, but stressed that a concern group would be too political and therefore inappropriate for an education institute.

Eddie Ng Hak-kim, the education secretary, said that students should discuss the sensitive issue under the supervision of teachers and within the limits of theBasic Law, which stipulates that Hong Kong is a part of China and that teachers should maintain this stance.

Ng received support for his comments from education officials in Beijing when they met on August 18.

The Education Bureau has also warned that teachers who advocate for Hong Kong independence in the process of their teaching duties may have their teaching licences cancelled.

Dominic Chu Fu-yau, the assistant to the episcopal delegate for the Catholic Education Office in Hong Kong, admits the topic is unavoidable in liberal studies classes, as the syllabus includes social issues in Hong Kong.

Chu explained, “Independent ideology exists in reality and if students want to know, teachers have to talk about it.”

However, Chu emphasised that teachers should not allow political bias to creep into their teaching during discussions on the touchy subject.

Karen Siu, a teacher in a Catholic school, disclosed that a job applicant was asked about her opinion on the matter during an interview for a teaching post.

“I don’t know if her answer would affect her chances of potential employment,” she said. “But this is the first time I have heard of that question being asked of job applicants.”

Siu thinks that educators should be careful about what kind of organisations approach students.

“Schools should study these organisations well,” she said. “If we do not understand them, how can we explain them to the students?” she queried.

The South China Morning Post reported on August 23 that a group from a Catholic school in Tung Chung now has a Facebook page and quoted Tony Chung Hon-lam, from the Studentlocalism organisation, as saying that now five to six new recruits are signing up each week, not just one or two.

He added that new applicants are being closely screened and those who advocate only rational, non-violent action are being screened out of consideration.

However, this criteria is not universal, as Vegas Chan Pui-chung, from Ying Wa College in Kowloon, maintained that his group is against all violence as students are too young to be exposed to its dangers.

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