The Hong Kong Education Bureau has defended its decision to oust a primary school teacher for life over disseminating what the authorities saw as pro-independence messages in class, saying the penalty was “reasonable and proportionate.”

At a press conference on Tuesday, Secretary for Education Kevin Yeung said the move to cancel the teacher’s registration last month was to eliminate a minority of “bad apples,” defend the “professional dignity” of educators and uphold the general public’s confidence in the city’s education.

Kevin Yeung in a press conference on October 6, 2020. Photo: RTHK screenshot.

The de-registration came after the authorities reviewed complaints received last September against a Life Education teacher at Kowloon Tong’s Alliance Primary School. He was accused of professional misconduct based on the curriculum and teaching materials he used.

According to the bureau, the teacher concerned spent 50 minutes discussing the pro-independence Hong Kong National Party with primary five students during classes held in March and April 2019.

The party was outlawed in 2018 under the Societies Ordinance, as the government said advocating Hong Kong independence was in “strict contravention” to the Basic Law and also against national security.

Deputy Secretary for Education Chan Siu Suk-fan said the teacher had asked students to raise their hands if they agreed with the objectives of the localist party. She accused the teacher of having a “premeditated plan” to promote Hong Kong independence in class and said it was not a careless oversight.

Alliance Primary School in Kowloon Tong. Photo: Chong Fat, via Wikimedia Commons.

“Spending such a long time and putting such a strong emphasis on a class topic about Hong Kong independence, isn’t it obvious that [he] was promoting Hong Kong independence messages?” she asked.

The education minister Yeung suggested that primary five students were too young to be having an academic discussion on Hong Kong independence, adding that such issues should not be subject to open-ended discussion. If students raise questions about the ideology, teachers should equip them with knowledge about the city’s existing constitutional framework, Yeung said.

Permanent Secretary for Education Michelle Li – authorised by the Education Ordinance to revoke the registration of a teacher – said the legislation did not specify when the de-registration would expire, meaning the teacher involved has been barred from teaching for life.

“There is no provision on the validity period of the cancellation, so that means once cancelled it’s cancelled… we consider the cancellation of registration an appropriate and reasonable penalty,” Li said.

Photo: GovHK.

Yeung also backed the disqualification of the teacher and hit out at critics who said the punishment would cause a chilling effect: “We always go back to professional considerations, we are definitely not scared of anyone putting any pressure on us. We do whatever we believe is right and necessary to protect our students.”

He added the Education Bureau would not pass the case to law enforcement agencies, as the incident took place before Beijing enacted the national security law on June 30. Under the sweeping legislation, promoting Hong Kong independence may constitute an offence as the law criminalises secession, subversion, collusion with foreign forces and interruption to public transportation and other infrastructure.

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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.