CATHOLIC NEWS OF THE WEEK . Sunday, 1 September 2019

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What the silent majority thinks may not be as clear as some presume

HONG KONG (SE): Civil society in Hong Kong continues its staunch opposition to the introduction of National and Moral Education, scheduled to begin in some schools at the beginning of the school year on September 3.

What began as a disagreement on an education curriculum came to a full blown political head during the afternoon of September 1, as tens of thousands of people began to gather outside the government offices in Tamar.

Organisers claimed that over 40,000 people had taken part in the Tamar Carnival against National and Moral Education, which continued throughout the weekend and into the following week.

Musicians took to the makeshift stage to entertain the crowd and the carnival featured a wide variety of hands-on displays offering interactive information games for children of all ages, as well as an exposé of the breadth of education on China already contained in the Hong Kong syllabus.

While the crowd supported Hong Kong students learning about China at school, people called for warts and all education, not a syllabus with a selective bias towards any governing party or administrative system.

“We need to study Hong Kong and in fact the whole world in this way,” one told the Sunday Examiner.

A press release on September 3, signed by the Justice and Peace Commission, Catholic Commission for Labour Affairs, Christians for Hong Kong Society and the Youth Group of the Hong Kong Christian Council, says that all nations and peoples are equal in the eyes of God, so any educational programme based on national bias is, in fact, brainwashing.

It points out that neither European countries, Australia, nor the United States of America have national education, but educate their students to be good citizens through teaching civic procedures and ideals.

“Real education should teach students to think critically, create freely and pursue virtue, not blindly accept their country or everything about a political party,” the statement reads.

It adds that education trains people to use their talents for the common good, not to be submissive citizens. “Society is formed by the people, it exists for them.”

The statement says, “Only civil education with a vision of the universal values of democracy, freedom, justice, human rights, rule of law, equality and family of nations can equip students to be good citizens of their own nation and the world.”

After 90,000 people marched on July 29 in a call to scrap the introduction of the subject, the education secretary, Eddie Ng Hak-kim, made the surprise assumption that everyone who did not join the rally silently supported it.

Ng said it is those who did not join who make up the silent majority that supports the subject.

His remarks prompted small groups of students to install themselves at various points around the city, standing with their lips pursed while holding banners denouncing the introduction of the national education curriculum and proclaiming that the silent majority is speaking.

For a politician to chance their arm on the opinions of those who do not publicly express them is, at best, a dangerous shot in the dark.

It prompted an Association of Men’s and Women’s Clubs to sponsor a major survey which revealed that 74 per cent of students and 77 per cent of parents questioned are against the introduction of the course in Hong Kong schools.

The South China Morning Post (August 27) quoted Andrew Shum Wai-nam, a spokesperson for an alliance opposing the introduction of the subject, as saying that Ng is not a good listener.

“The government simply ignored public opinions that oppose the national education subject and they thought they had responded to calls for scrapping it by setting up an advisory body that comprised pro-government figures,” Shum said.

AsiaNews reported that the roots of the new subject can be traced back to rumblings in Beijing in 2002 for educational reform, which culminated in the 2004 launch of a campaign to introduce what has been described as a non-defined course to be taught as a separate subject from primary school up.

Groups opposing the course in Hong Kong claim that the real aim of the subject is to tout the economic and scientific achievements of the government in the mainland, while staying silent on its sins and failures, like the Tiananmen Square Massacre of 1989 and massive corruption in the country.

Survey results show a majority of students would ask the government, if they were able to, to include Tiananmen among the topics covered in the course.

Lam Wai-man, a member of a parents association, said that it is not clear whether the government wants to use the course to prepare people for the launch of as yet unrevealed policies and programmes in the future, which the general population may not be willing to stomach.

It points out that the former bishop of Hong Kong, Joseph Cardinal Zen Ze-kiun, asked the same question back in 2004 when changes to management of government subsidised schools were legislated in the territory.

National and Moral Education will become mandatory in primary schools in 2015 and secondary schools the following year.

Meanwhile, a hunger strike by high school students continued into September 4, although some had to give up, due to fears for their health. 

The young people camped out in the government district of Admiralty greeted a visit from the chief executive, Leung Chun-ying, with scepticism, dismissing it as a stunt.

A spokesperson for the organiser, a student group calling itself Scholarism, said, “The government respects neither the parents nor the students, and not even teachers.”

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