Education secretary Eddie Ng Hak-kim has defended Beijing’s new national education initiative in Hong Kong schools, which is aimed at putting a stop to the pro-independence debate.

Ng said it was not an attempt at “brainwashing,” despite opposition from the pro-democracy education sector lawmaker, who said it represents more political interference in schools.

It came after an addition to the annual working report of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC) on Monday, which voiced “firm opposition to Hong Kong independence” in addition to vowing to “assist Hong Kong CPPCC delegates to enter schools to promote national education.”

Ip Kin-yuen. File Photo: Stanley Leung/HKFP.

Education sector lawmaker Ip Kin-yuen said it was “a political decision and a political mission.”

“It is very likely to be a biased [education programme], focusing on a certain angle – the positive angle – this is not an appropriate education in our view,” Ip, of the 90,000-member Professional Teachers’ Union, said.

“Of course, different people may have different views. We understand that if schools include speakers of different views in talks, such as CPPCC delegates, [and] people with opposite political views, I believe it will be more balanced.”

He said teachers have their professional judgment and there was no need for external political interference.

‘Brainwashing’ accusation

In 2012, massive protests took place over a government attempt to roll out a national education subject in local schools. Following the week-long demonstrations, the controversial curriculum plans were dropped.

Eddie Ng. Photo: GovHK.

The 2012 proposal was deemed “brainwashing” by protesters. But on Monday, Ng denied the new initiative amounted to brainwashing.

“[D]on’t just say things, do you have evidence?” Ng asked. “Many schools support it, promote it professionally – we need to have confidence, we cannot simply say anything without proof.”

Ng, the administration’s most unpopular principal official, will not remain in government during the next administration. He said his bureau welcomes professionals or groups familiar with the Basic Law, Hong Kong’s de facto constitution, to participate and provide assistance to schools in accordance with their needs.

Before the failure of the national education subject in 2012, the Education Bureau had already given a one-off HK$530,000 subsidy to schools for the subject.

A protest sign from the 2012 national education protests. File photo: HKFP/Tom Grundy.

In the 2015 policy address, Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying proposed that students should visit the mainland at least once in their primary and secondary school life. The expected subsidy stands at HK$110 million for the 2017/18 school year.

The Home Affairs Bureau also has programmes to subsidise students to visit or intern on the mainland.

Kris Cheng

Kris Cheng is a Hong Kong journalist with an interest in local politics. His work has been featured in Washington Post, Public Radio International, Hong Kong Economic Times and others. He has a BSSc in Sociology from the Chinese University of Hong Kong. Kris is HKFP's Editorial Director.