Advocacy groups have said they will organise street stands opposing the potential appointment of a pro-Beijing school principal as the number two official of the Education Bureau.

Choi Yuk-lin, of the pro-Beijing Hong Kong Federation of Education Workers (HKFEW), is rumoured to be a candidate for the position of undersecretary for education. Choi is the principal of the Fukien Secondary School (Siu Sai Wan).

But education advocacy groups have expressed concerns that if Choi is appointed, she may push for more widespread use of Mandarin, and a return of the ill-fated national education curriculum. The controversial curriculum failed to be established as a stand-alone subject in 2012 after mass protests.

Choi Yuk-lin
Choi Yuk-lin. File Photo: Stand News.

Appointments of undersecretaries are expected to be announced by early August. The advocacy groups will launch street stands on the Wan Chai MTR station footbridge on Tuesday and visit the office of the HKFEW on Wednesday to request a direct conversation with Choi.

Choi was a senior curriculum development officer of the Bureau between 2006 and 2013.

According to the group Societas Linguistica hongkongensis, which supports the use of Cantonese as teaching medium, more than 70 per cent of primary schools have classes that use Mandarin as a teaching medium.

Chan Lok-hang Joshua Wong Prince Wong
Photo: Demosisto.

Chan Lok-hang, convener of the group, said Choi could be a major driving force for using Mandarin to teach the subject of Chinese. He said the projects and resources provided by the bureau during her tenure, such as Language Support Services for Primary Schools, all contain more Mandarin elements.

Chan added that after Choi left the bureau, phrases about teaching Chinese in Mandarin disappeared from documents, indirectly showing that she could be responsible.

Chan also said an article on the bureau’s website in January 2014 said Cantonese is “a Chinese dialect which is not the official language,” when Choi was responsible for the Chinese portion of the Bureau’s Language Learning Support Section.

“Choi very much despises Cantonese,” he said. “The article created a public relations disaster for the bureau, and the bureau’s officials had to tackle the issues created by her. I believe the bureau will not welcome her return as the undersecretary.”

China Model national education
A protest against “The China Model” national education teaching material handbook in 2012. File Photo: VOA.

‘Black box’ process

Demosisto party secretary-general Joshua Wong said the HKFEW was the organisation behind the national education curriculum in 2012.

The government provided over HK$10 million in funds to the HKFEW to set up the National Education Services Centre, which published a controversial teaching material handbook named “The China Model,” one of the items that sparked concerns over national education curriculum and the mass protests that came after. The handbook described the Chinese Communist Party as a “progressive, selfless and united ruling group.”

Wong said the funding procedures of the bureau were often a “black box” process and the HKFEW often benefitted from it.

“If Choi is appointed… will it make the black box process even worse? We are very concerned,” he said. “We are very worried that the national education curriculum, which failed five years ago, will be installed in different subjects.”

He also said that Choi often used “very biased words” against students: “She said students who joined the Umbrella Movement formed a ‘democractic hegemony’ through a rushed and selfish political struggle… I believe Education Bureau officials – or even Secretary for Education Kevin Yeung – had never used such biased words.”

Choi Yuk-lin
Activists showing photo of Choi Yuk-lin in a ‘patriotic’ red scarf. Photo: Demosisto.

Red scarf

Prince Wong of student concern group The Edu Lab said she was concerned about potential “white terror” – the banning of political discussions in schools – if Choi is appointed.

“It is a double standard that Choi wore [patriotic] red scarfs when attending flag raising ceremonies, but she would not allow students to discuss politics,” she said.

Choi lost the education sector seat during the 2016 Legislative Council election to incumbent pro-democracy lawmaker Ip Kin-yuen.

Choi has neither confirmed or denied her potential appointment.

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.