Teachers at all Hong Kong’s government-funded schools will have to pass a test on the Basic Law which may in future also cover the national security law, Secretary for Education Kevin Yeung said, adding that a new code of conduct will include monitoring of social media posts.

Carrie Lam HKPTU
Chief Executive Carrie Lam attended the Hong Kong Professional Teachers’ Union (HKPTU) 45th Anniversary Reception in 2018. File Photo: GovHK.

Yeung also forecast continuing school closures in the face of a falling birth rate and rising emigration.

Basic Law test

Public school teachers — who are civil servants — are already subject to a Basic Law test, according to Yeung, and this requirement would be extended to government-aided schools – institutions which are fully state-funded but privately run – from the next academic year.

“As mentors giving guidance to students, we expect teachers to have some knowledge of the Basic Law as they have to understand the policy of ‘One Country Two Systems’ under the Basic Law,” Yeung told RTHK on Friday, adding that civil servants have for years been required to pass a Basic Law test.

Yeung said his bureau would impose the test on all of the 1,000 to 2,000 teachers recruited to aided schools in the city every year, followed by those at private schools which fall under the DSS scheme and kindergartens.

July 1 Kevin Yeung
Hong Kong’s Secretary for Education Kevin Yeung attending a flag raising ceremony at Pui Kiu Middle School on July 1, 2021. File Photo: Candice Chau/HKFP.

Teachers will have to correctly answer at least half of the questions, and may need to do some revision. “It shouldn’t be hard to pass [the test], but it reflects the government’s requirements and expectation towards teachers,” Yeung said. The national security law may be included in the test in the future, he said.

The bureau is also drawing up a new, “clearer” code of conduct for teachers, based on lessons learned from over 200 complaints against educators in the wake of the 2019 anti-extradition bill protests, Yeung said. Three teachers were de-registered as a result of complaints.

school classroom books textbook
File photo: Tom Grundy/HKFP.

“We would also consider what [teachers] expressed on their social media,” Yeung said, describing it as a “so-called private space” where an opinion expressed by a teacher may be shared more widely on the internet.

Dropping population

Meanwhile the government expects the number of six-year-olds in Hong Kong to drop consistently over the next eight years as the city sees a “structural drop” in the birth rate, in addition to a wave of emigration. “Inevitably some schools have to shut down,” Yeung said.

Examples include the closure of Heung To Primary School and the relocation of Shau Kei Wan East Government Secondary School to Kwun Tong, where there is more demand for places, Yeung said.

Officials will also study long-term policies in response to the trend while organising “orderly” school closures, such as continuing to expand the Small Class Teaching scheme which limits the number of students per class.

Selina Cheng is a Hong Kong journalist who previously worked with HK01, Quartz and AFP Beijing. She also covered the Umbrella Movement for AP and reported for a newspaper in France. Selina has studied investigative reporting at the Columbia Journalism School.