Local schools have been encouraged to cancel classes so students can watch a live broadcast of a Basic Law forum to be attended by a top Beijing official.

The forum on November 16 will include a speech by Li Fei, deputy secretary general of the National People’s Congress Standing Committee. The topic will be “Hong Kong’s role and mission under the country’s constitution and the Basic Law as a Special Administrative Region.”

The Education Bureau said it has invited schools to watch the live broadcast and encourages government schools to make arrangements to improve students’ knowledge of “One Country, Two Systems” and the Basic Law. However, participation is purely voluntarily and schools will make a final decision.

Li Fei. File Photo: GovHK.

Chief Executive Carrie Lam will give make some opening remarks at the forum, before Li’s one hour speech. An hour-long panel discussion with four experts will then take place, before some closing words from Chief Secretary Matthew Cheung. Two hours of class time may be axed as a result.

Education sector lawmaker Ip Kin-yuen said such forums were common, but it was unprecedented for the Education Bureau to ask schools to watch a live broadcast of an official’s speech.

He said school sponsoring bodies were asked to return a reply slip specifying whether they will arrange for students to watch the forum. If the answer is positive, they will also have to detail how many schools will be involved.

“We received complaints from school principals saying they feel pressured,” Ip said. “There was no such arrangement even for Carrie Lam’s policy address… It is difficult for us not to believe that it was intended to feed students a certain interpretation of the Basic Law.”

Photo: HKFP/Catherine Lai.

Ip said the move was “foolish” as secondary school students are unlikely to understand the speech, which will not be written for their level.

“Students may feel bored or annoyed [at the speech],” he said. “This is an educational disaster.”

Ip said normal classes should not be affected, and it would be better for teachers to reorganise the materials in the speech, combined with other teaching materials, to teach students at a later stage.

But Carrie Lam said there was nothing mandatory in the arrangement. “You can just not watch it if you close your eyes,” she said.

“It’s like what I said yesterday – seeing things with coloured lenses. In the past schools hadn’t so many facilities, they can’t view live broadcasts even if they want to,” Lam said.

“I did not know the arrangement, it’s part of the Education Bureau’s daily work. but the Bureau has a responsibility to improve education on the Basic Law.”

Joshua Wong and Nathan Law. Photo: In-Media.

Joshua Wong, the jailed democracy activist who was released on bail on Tuesday, said he did not believe the forum would be effective for students as there would not be any interactive discussion.

“I am concerned about whether students have the attention span to listen to all the speeches over two hours,” he said on a RTHK radio programme on Wednesday.

Nathan Law, who was also released on bail on Tuesday, said he believed schools will still feel pressure even though the Education Bureau said participation will be voluntary.

“There should be diversity in education, and there should be space for students to think about values… We feel this talk by Li Fei will have a lot of limitations,” he said.

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.