Hong Kong’s secretary for education has defended a secondary school syllabus that has been criticised as “biased” in its portrayal of the city’s protest culture.

The syllabus in question was released in 2015 as part of a citywide curriculum teaching the Basic Law, Hong Kong’s mini-constitution, to students in Form 1 to Form 3. Schools were given guidelines earlier this year to teach 51 hours of Basic Law-related material to students over these three years.

Protests brainwash brainwashing
Discussion exercise in Basic Law syllabus. Photo: Education Bureau.

One of the e-books in the syllabus, titled “The Fundamental Rights and Duties of Hong Kong Residents,” asked students to discuss protests in Hong Kong through three fictional newspaper articles written according to real media reports. The book does not specify which media reports the fictional articles were based on.

‘Simplistic and superficial’ understanding of democracy

The Chinese version of one of the fictional articles suggested that the number of protests – as well as incidents of “radical acts” or “violence” during protests – have been on the rise from 1997 to 2012. The English version of the article did not mention the same statistics.

“Giving up effective channels of communication in favour of street resistance shows that a portion of Hongkongers have a simplistic and superficial understanding of democracy,” the Chinese article read.

Another fictional media report claimed that “the streets might be a little messy” as a result of protests.

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Fictional newspaper report on protests. Photo: Education Bureau.

The third report cited statistics indicating that incidents of protesters attacking police officers were on the rise.

Despite the comments regarding protests made in the three fictional articles, the syllabus states that the right to protest is safeguarded by the Basic Law.

‘Red’ syllabus

Activist Joshua Wong, who five years ago led protests against an attempt to implement a national education curriculum, demanded that the Education Bureau rescind what he called a “provocative and suggestive ‘red’ syllabus.”

“The Education Bureau claims that teachers are not forced to use the syllabus prepared by the bureau,” he wrote on Facebook on Monday. “But the question is: Why is taxpayer money being used to develop a syllabus that twists the values of human rights?”

Anti-national education curriculum protest.
Anti-national education protest. File photo: Wikimedia Commons.

Ronny Tong, a former pro-democracy legislator who is now a member of the Executive Council, also told Ming Pao that he thought the syllabus was biased. He said protests are a basic human right that should not be casually associated with illegal activities and violence.

Speaking to reporters on Monday, Secretary for Education Kevin Yeung claimed that the Basic Law syllabus was developed in a professional manner: “If you take a closer look, you’ll see that we transparently inserted the opinions of different people in society towards the Basic Law into the syllabus.”

“We tried to introduce an understanding of the Basic Law from multiple perspectives, as well as introduce the aspects of the Basic Law that are not so clear to the public.”

“When we develop any syllabus, we try our best to gather information from across society, and hold discussions with relevant professional organisations,” added Yeung.

Kevin Yeung
Kevin Yeung. File photo: GovHK.

“We discussed [the Basic Law syllabus] with the Secretary for Justice and the Constitutional and Mainland Affairs Bureau.”

See also: Gov’t defends controversial analogy of Beijing-Hong Kong relationship in new teaching package

The Education Bureau’s teaching packages for Basic Law education have been criticised on various occasions. Last month, the bureau defended a video in which the relationship between Hong Kong and Beijing was likened to that between a teacher and a school principal.

Elson Tong is a graduate of international relations and former investigations consultant. He has also written for Stand News.