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What makes education valid?

CONTROVERSY OVER THE National and Moral Education Curriculum promulgated by the Hong Kong government reached its crescendo on July 29 with a mass rally in Victoria Park and a march to the Central Government Offices, with people representing teachers’ unions, political parties, educationalists, students and parents taking part.

The two most common criticisms hurled at the programme are that it is little more than brainwashing and that the syllabus simply does not add up to an educational curriculum.

In its turn, government officials seem to be able to do little more than deny these allegations and call for a greater public trust in their own credibility and the discretion of teachers.

Officials from the Catholic Education Office have long argued that the course is simply not necessary, as its stated aims of engendering a love for the motherland and giving an understanding of its political and social structures, as well as Chinese culture as lived out on the mainland are already adequately covered in other subjects.

However, teachers complain that the course does not really address these issues adequately, only presenting a glossed over picture of the history of the People’s Republic of China, and say that it lacks critical assessment of significant historical issues, such as the Tiananmen Square Massacre and the Cultural Revolution.

The July 29 rally questioned if the government of Hong Kong is on a mission to indoctrinate the population, turning people into blind patriots who cannot distinguish right from wrong.

This question has, to a large extent, been prompted by a publication from the National Education Services Centre of a handbook entitled, The China Model, which depicts the nation as possessing an “advanced, altruistic and united governing body… ensuring stable government protecting the wholeness of the country.”

In the same breath it takes a backhanded swipe at the United States of America by claiming, without any particular rationale, that “battles between political parties harm people’s lives.”

Educational ideology coming out of a government cannot be divorced from the manner in which it acts. Recent manipulation of ordinations of both priests and bishops in China by government authorities prompted one priest to comment, “This move is typical… making bishops in communion with the pope act against the discipline of the Church, mingling right with wrong, true with false” (Sunday Examiner, July 15).

Speaking in Hong Kong on June 25, Sri Lankan Nilantha Ilangamuwa described this as erasing the dividing lines between moral good and evil which can effectively lull people into believing there can only be two choices, either pro or anti.

“But only one good is presented,” he explained, “so if you cannot subscribe you are bad” (Sunday Examiner, July 12).

Education presents students with information and teaches them to critically access it, by helping them to form questions to ask, rather than giving them answers. Young people ultimately have to make their own decisions about what values they adopt in their life. The responsibility of society is to educate them to be able to do that.

This requires both knowledge and the ability to critically assess, otherwise, when challenges come, if they cannot adequately underpin their cherished values with confidence, they can be left floundering.

Jesus Christ taught that it is the truth that will set us free and education should equip students to navigate their way through the grey areas that obscure the pearls of life. JiM