Hong Kong activists have launched a petition urging a primary school to apologise over controversial reports that its students are punished for speaking Cantonese.

Earlier this month, broadcaster i-Cable spoke to students of the Xianggang Putonghua Yanxishe Primary School of Science and Creativity in Tin Shui Wai. The students told the news channel that, if they spoke Cantonese in class, they were reprimanded and told to write out lines as punishment.

The principal of the school denied doling out such punishments, saying that it could be an individual teacher’s practice but the school itself would not allow such a policy.


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Posted by 新聞刺針 on Thursday, 31 January 2019

Several activist groups on Thursday said Hong Kong was a signatory of the Convention on the Rights of the Child, and education authorities and schools should protect students’ right to speak their mother tongues. Thursday was also International Mother Language Day.

Andrew Chan Lok-hang, convener of the group Hong Kong Lang Studies – which promotes Cantonese as a teaching medium – said guardians of children studying at schools using Mandarin as a medium of instruction for Chinese teaching should find out if pupils are punished for using Cantonese.

“It may cause psychological trauma for them,” Chan said. “This is, in reality, school bullying – teachers bullying students by stripping them of the right to speak their mother tongue.”

The petition demanded that the primary school make a public statement confirming that teachers are not allowed to punish students for speaking Cantonese.

It also demanded that the school investigate teachers who issued such punishments, and instruct them to apologise to the affected students and parents.

Andrew Chan
Andrew Chan (second from right). Photo: inmediahk.net.

The petition was supported by district concern group Tin Shui Wai New Force, as well as localist groups Student Independence Union, Student Localism, and Hong Kong National Front.

They will organise street booths in the North District – where there are more schools teaching the Chinese language subject in Mandarin – to ask the public to sign the petition.

They will also write to foreign bodies such as the United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund, the US House Committee on Foreign Affairs, the European Parliament Subcommittee on Human Rights, Taiwan’s Ministry of Education and Office of Hong Kong Affairs.

According to the Standing Committee on Language Education and Research definition, a school is considered to be using Mandarin as a medium for Chinese language subject if more than half of the lesson period is delivered in Mandarin.

Xianggang Putonghua Yanxishe Primary School of Science and Creativity
Students of the Xianggang Putonghua Yanxishe Primary School of Science and Creativity. Photo: Xianggang Putonghua Yanxishe Primary School of Science and Creativity.

According to Chan, there are 358 primary schools and 125 secondary schools currently using Mandarin as a medium for Chinese language subject. The figures represent a decrease of 23 schools when compared to the 2017/18 school year.

But Chan said some schools are unlikely to switch back to teaching the Chinese language subject in Cantonese: “For example, the name of the Xianggang Putonghua Yanxishe Primary School of Science and Creativity contains ‘Xianggang’ – it has Mandarin in its own name. We don’t expect these schools would switch,” he said.

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.