The Hong Kong Secondary Students’ Action Platform – backed by pro-democracy group Demosisto – has vowed to file a legal challenge against the Education Bureau, after it requested the local exam body scrap a “biased” question in the history paper of this year’s Diploma of Secondary Education (DSE) exam. 

The controversy surrounds a question that asked candidates to argue whether they agreed with the view that Japan did more good than harm to China between 1900 and 1945. Students had to answer with reference to sources provided and their own knowledge.

Kevin Yeung in a press conference on May 15. Photo: inmediahk.net.

Last Friday, Secretary for Education Kevin Yeung slammed the question as “leading and biased,” saying it would hurt the feelings of those who suffered the Japanese invasion of China in the late 1930s. State media lambasted the question a day earlier, claiming it encouraged students to be “traitors.”

On Monday, student group representatives submitted a joint petition against the bureau’s plan to investigate the Hong Kong Examinations and Assessment Authority (HKEAA). Demosisto’s vice-chair Isaac Cheng said they collected over 60,000 signatures, among which 1,281 were this year’s History subject candidates. A total of 954 teachers signed the petition as well.

Cheng, who is also the student platform’s spokesperson, urged the bureau to withdraw its request. He said the HKEAA should operate independently and not be subjected to “political pressure.”

Representatives of the Hong Kong Secondary Students’ Action Platform. Photo: Demosisto, via Facebook.

Legal action

The platform has sought legal advice on whether the bureau has gone beyond its powers, and they are at the final stage of drafting relevant documents for launching a judicial review against the bureau.

“If the Education Bureau persists wilfully in face of the 60,000 objections and continues to suppress… the platform will uphold academic freedom and candidates’ interests by filing a judicial review against the bureau acting ultra vires,” Cheng said.

The group will file an injunction as well, in a bid to prevent the HKEAA from amending the exam paper. Cheng said: “This is to maintain fairness and ensure the legitimacy of the DSE exam.”

Isaac Cheng. Photo: Demosisto, via Facebook.

Cheng warned that, if legal action was taken, it could delay the assessment procedures of the History paper, or even affect the result announcement date. He said the Education Bureau would have to take full responsibility for the serious consequences caused by its “reckless behaviour.”

So Kwok-sang, HKEAA’s secretary-general, told reporters on Monday morning that the exam body has yet to come to a conclusion on how to handle the controversy. So said meetings would be held soon, but he did not respond to questions over whether the bureau had interfered with the HKEAA’s operation: “We understand this incident had a profound impact, so the HKEAA committee members will follow up seriously,” he said.

Later, in response to media enquiries, the HKEAA said that the Hong Kong Examinations and Assessment Authority Ordinance stipulates that the chief executive has powers to monitor the exam body. The city’s leader could give “directions of a general character” to the HKEAA on matters that she sees as affecting public interest.

Judicial reviews are considered by the Court of First Instance and examine the decision-making processes of administrative bodies. Issues under review must be shown to affect the wider public interest.

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Kelly Ho

Kelly Ho has an interest in local politics, education and sports. She formerly worked at South China Morning Post Young Post, where she specialised in reporting on issues related to Hong Kong youth. She has a bachelor's degree in Journalism from the University of Hong Kong, with a second major in Politics and Public Administration.