Chief Executive Carrie Lam has said that recent education-related controversies have been exaggerated, and the government has no plans to change the current language teaching policies.

It was recently reported that an article written by Song Xinqiao – a Putonghua consultant at the Chinese University of Hong Kong – stated that Cantonese is a dialect and not a mother tongue. Published in 2013, the article formed part of a set of Mandarin teaching supporting materials sent to primary schools by the Education Bureau.

Shiu Ka-chun. Photo: Photo:

Concerns were also raised after local media, citing unnamed sources, reported that the Education Bureau’s Task Force on Review of School Curriculum was considering making the liberal studies subject into an elective.

‘A non-issue’

At a Legislative Council question-and-answer session on Thursday morning, lawmaker Shiu Ka-chun cited the controversy and asked Lam: “My mother tongue is Cantonese… I want to ask, chief executive – what is your mother tongue?”

Lam said that she believed that recently, some were making a mountain out of a molehill in the education sector, both with the Cantonese controversy as well as the discussion over the liberal studies subject.

“For a while now, a lot of political issues have invaded campuses,” she said, adding that she believed such issues had been exaggerated as some feel that the education sector has been too calm of late.

Referring to the comment on Cantonese as a dialect, Lam said: “The document is from 2013; it’s two or three sentences in a document that is part of a series of documents, and it’s now been blown out of proportion.”

“It’s a non-issue,” she said. “But there are those who kept amplifying it, so we can only continue to give explanations.”

Chief Executive Carrie Lam. Photo:

Regarding the liberal studies controversy, Lam criticised those who raised doubts before the task force had given an official view, saying the such debates could stall progress in Hong Kong. Lam also said that Education Secretary Kevin Yeung had clearly explained the two issues to the public.

When Shiu pressed Lam again on what her mother tongue was, Lam said she would not reply, saying it was silly question.

She told education sector lawmaker Ip Kin-yuen that the government had no plans to change any of its current education policies on language at the moment, though could not make any promises about the future should circumstances change.

As Lam left the chamber, a group of lawmakers chanted: “Hong Kong people’s mother tongue is Cantonese!”

Karen is a journalist and writer covering politics and legal affairs in Hong Kong for HKFP. She has also written features on human rights, public space, regional legal developments, social and grassroots activism, and arts & culture. She is a BA and LLB graduate from the University of Hong Kong.