Professional groups have criticised the official Basic Law teaching resource package for being “biased” and “substandard”, and urged the government to withdraw the package.

Hong Kong Professional Teachers’ Union, the city’s largest teachers’ union, and Progressive Lawyers Group held a joint press conference on Sunday to present their analyses of the government’s teaching kit from educational and legal perspectives.

The two groups advised schools against using the kit, saying that its content is questionable and could be used as a “political tool” on students. They also urged the bureau to rewrite the package after consulting the educational and legal sectors.

To mark the 25th anniversary of the proclamation of the Basic Law, the Education Bureau produced a Basic Law multimedia package targeting middle school students in late April. According to the bureau, the kit aims at deepening students’ understanding of the Basic Law and the “One Country, Two Systems” policy from a “multi-perspective outlook”.

Professional Teachers’ Union and Progressive Lawyers Group held a joint conference regarding the Basic Law teaching kit on Sunday. Photo: Office of Legislative Councilor Ip Kin-yuen.

However, the teachers and lawyers groups said that the teaching kit misrepresents history and the concept of law by downplaying the fact that “One Country, Two Systems” stems from the Sino-British Joint Declaration, thereby misleading students into thinking that the Basic Law is simply authorised by China’s constitution and can be amended anytime by the Chinese government.

The kit also fails to explain the concept of the rule of law and teach the importance of civil rights, the study found. “An important aspect of legal education is the understanding of various concepts related to the rule of law, such as the spirit of the rule of law, human rights, equality, adherence to the laws, and civil disobedience,” the groups said in a joint statement. “However, the teaching kit fails to present any of these concepts and values, let alone carrying out any discussions.”

The groups said that the kit provides a one-sided narrative as it mostly presents opinions of pro-government individuals and lacks the voices of those who hold different opinions towards the Basic Law, which contradicts the bureau’s objective of promoting a “multi-perspective outlook”.

The study also found that the kit avoids mentioning controversial subjects, such as a lawyers’ silent protest in response to Beijing’s interpretation of the Basic Law, and presents these issues as widely accepted facts. The groups worried that it would prevent students from understanding the current legal system critically.

The new Basic Law multimedia teaching kit. Photo: GovHK.

Wong Ji-yuet, spokesperson for the student activist group Scholarism, wrote in an oped for local newspaper Apple Daily on Monday that the teaching kit was equivalent to the “Chinese government’s mouthpiece” by “copying the content of the White Paper [put forward by China’s legislature in 2014] and repackaging it in the form of the Basic Law”.

“[The teaching kit] is not simply a biased teaching resource package, but it also distorts the power relationships between the Chinese and Hong Kong governments,” said Wong. “It is a form of brainwash education.”

The Education Bureau has rejected the criticism, saying that it has consulted a number of Basic Law experts and teachers. It will be providing teachers with professional training courses and inviting experts to explore a variety of issues, the bureau said.

In 2012, a controversial “moral and national education” subject introduced by the Education Bureau was met with resistance from the public, who viewed the subject as pro-China and “brainwashing”. After a ten-day siege of the government’s headquarters, the government announced that schools would no longer be required to teach the subject.

However, Scholarism and other groups have been criticising the government for “instilling nationalistic values” across all grades through various means, such as publicly funded exchange tours and Hong Kong Army Cadets Association.

Ellie Ng

Ellie Ng has written for Foreign Policy, the Daily Telegraph, Global Voices Online and others.