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Residual dilemma of national education

The controversy over Moral and National Education still haunts dark corners, despite an announcement on September 8 by the chief executive, Leung Chun-ying, that the startup deadline of 2015 is scrapped.

Leung said that it would be left up to schools to decide whether to include the course in their curriculum or not, as well choose their own resource materials and course outline.

On the surface, this seems harmless, but it does not exactly mean that the deadline will never return, although Leung said that it will not happen on his watch.

In addition, the freedom granted to schools to choose their own resource materials appears innocent, but has an insidious side.

It presents a dilemma for Catholic schools, since the stated purpose of the course is to engender a positive and deep appreciation of the People’s Republic of China in students’ hearts and minds and promote nationalistic fervour.

While a lot of discussion has centred on the word national in the controversy that has raged in Hong Kong, the word moral has seldom seen the light of day, yet the very name itself would seem to imply a moral component should be included.

The juxtaposing of the two words in the title is also problematic, as it implies that national feeling can have a moral measurement, leaving the impression that a lack of it somehow imputes guilt.

While it has never been made clear whether the moral aspect refers to scrutiny of the People’s Republic or simply personal lifestyle, either way it is difficult to imagine a Catholic school talking moral life without reference to Catholic resources, normally the scriptures and Church teaching.

Also, since national education sits in the civic affairs and societal basket, normal resources for such a course in a Catholic school would revolve around Church social teaching, the social encyclicals of the popes and social analysis of Catholic authors, all of which abound.

The contradiction here lies in the basic rejection of one-party rule or any form of dictatorship or totalitarian government in Church social teaching.

As recently as September 17, Pope Benedict XVI praised the Arab Spring Revolution in the Middle East, saying that it has rid the world of four dictators and expresses a desire for more democracy, more freedom, more cooperation and a renewed Arab identity.

Apart from any political repercussions, it is inherently contradictory to call on Catholic social teaching to support a system of community life that appears to reject at least some of these values.

While the Catholic diocese has chosen not to introduce the course in its schools at this point, it is leaving it to individual schools to make their own decisions, as well as their own curriculum.

While education on Chinese history, geography and civic life is already a hefty class component in Catholic schools, they cover it in different ways, as the actual subject courses taught varies from school to school.

Consequently, preparing an across the board, one-size-fits-all curriculum for all Catholic schools would be a tough ask.

While the immediate threat may have abated, few believe that it has gone away forever and, like National Security Legislation (Article 23), will raise its head again sometime in the future.

While preparations seem necessary, the residual dilemma of sourcing materials becomes more complex. JiM