The Hong Kong government has cancelled the registration of a teacher who allegedly spread pro-independence messages to primary school children, in what Chief Executive Carrie Lam described as a “very serious matter.”

The Education Bureau announced on Monday that the teacher was de-registered late last month for “serious professional misconduct.” It said the syllabus, teaching materials and worksheet designed by the teacher had disseminated pro-independence messages.

alliance primary school independence worksheet
Photo: Internet.

The bureau also reprimanded the school principal and vice-principal for “improper supervision.” The leading teachers’ union hit back, describing the action against the teacher as unjustified and “despicable.”

Lam on Tuesday said it was the first time Hong Kong had de-registered a teacher for professional misconduct unrelated to sexual and criminal offences. She said action against “bad apples” in the education sector would continue.

“If there is a very tiny faction of teachers who are using their teaching responsibilities to convey wrong messages to promote misunderstanding about the nation, to smear the country and the Hong Kong SAR government without basis, then that becomes a very serious matter,” she said.

Lam said she believed the investigation into the teacher had covered more than just the disputed worksheet. She asked the Secretary for Education, Kevin Yueng, to hold a press conference on Tuesday afternoon to explain the matter further.

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Under the national security law imposed by Beijing on June 30, expressions of support for Hong Kong’s independence have become a criminal offence punishable by up to life imprisonment.

Lam has earlier complained that the local education system had become politicised, with anti-government forces “infiltrating” schools and campuses.

Between June last year and this August, the education bureau received 247 complaints of professional misconduct by teachers regarding social matters. Investigations into 204 of the cases have been completed and 73 of these were judged to be unsubstantiated.

The management at the Alliance Primary School where the teacher worked said in a statement that the person in question had already left the position. It said it would not comment further due to privacy issues.

‘Totally unacceptable’

The Hong Kong Professional Teachers’ Union described the education bureau’s accusations as untrue and the de-registration as unreasonable.

“The bureau did not seriously hear the teacher’s defence, unilaterally made the ruling, and issued a condemnation and written warning to the school principal and teachers respectively. It is a despicable act of intimidating the school management. The HKPTU find it totally unacceptable,” the union said In a Facebook statement.

It pledged to assist the teacher in any appeal against the “extreme penalty.”

Covid-19 coronavirus virus student school
Photo: Kelly Ho/HKFP.

The offending worksheet for primary five students, aged 10-11, contains four questions. The first and last question centres on freedom of speech: “In your opinion, what is freedom of speech?” and “What will become of Hong Kong without freedom of speech?”

The two other questions touched on politically controversial events involving Andy Chan, an activist who supports independence for Hong Kong, and Taiwanese documentary filmmaker Fu Yue, who advocates formal independence for Taiwan.

The issue of the worksheet was raised by Ta Kung Pao newspaper last year. At the time the principal of Alliance Primary School, Kwan Mei-mui, told the paper that the worksheet was designed by a Life Education subject teacher. Students were urged to watch a local TV programme which featured Chan and then to suggest reasons for advocating Hong Kong independence, the principal was quoted as saying.

The worksheet also asked: “At her 55th Golden Horse Awards prize acceptance speech, what did Fu Yue…say that touched the nerves of mainland China that they vowed to safeguard their territory?”

Kevin Yeung
Kevin Yeung. File photo: RTHK screenshot.

The education bureau has come under fire from a former chief executive C.Y. Leung, who is now vice-chairman of a top political advisory body in China. He filed a legal challenge asking the bureau to disclose the names of teachers accused of professional misconduct.

Education chief Kevin Yeung said in response that existing mechanisms were adequate to ensure teachers’ quality.

HKFP has reached out to the Education Bureau for comment.

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Rachel Wong previously worked as a documentary producer and academic researcher. She has a BA in Comparative Literature and European Studies from the University of Hong Kong. She has contributed to A City Made by People and The Funambulist, and has an interest in cultural journalism and gender issues.