Media reports suggesting that Hong Kong was considering switching the medium of instruction for Chinese lessons in schools to Putonghua, rather than Cantonese, are “inaccurate,” the bureau has said.

In an interview with a state-backed tabloid, education chief Christine Choi said that “if conditions are met, schools can use Putonghua to teach the Chinese language subject,” the bureau told HKFP on Friday. It added that the stance was in line with existing policies.

The Secretary for Education Christine Choi. File photo: GovHK.

Choi, the new secretary for education, told Global Times on Monday that the young generation in Hong Kong would “suffer losses” in terms of opportunities arising from China’s rapid development if they could not speak Putonghua.

She said that, therefore, schools must teach Hong Kong students Putonghua, as opposed to Cantonese, as spoken locally.

“In the future, if teachers meet requirements and schools offer [an] environment for learning language… using Putonghua in local education will be a more convenient way,” Choi added.

“[I]f some conditions can be met, local schools in Hong Kong should offer education in Putonghua,” the state media outlet cited Choi as saying.

In response to HKFP’s enquiry on Friday, the Education Bureau said some media outlets inaccurately interpreted Choi’s remarks as meaning that Putonghua as a medium of instruction would be considered for all schools, or comprehensively implemented.

Instead, it said that such policies would depend on the school’s situation, “including the level of readiness among teachers, the Putonghua capability of students, the language environment on campus, the curriculum, and support available for learning and teaching.”

Students in a classroom. File photo: GovHK.

It said “teaching Chinese in Putonghua” was originally outlined as a long-term target in the official guide to the Chinese language curriculum back in 2002, and the policy has not seen changes.

Schools can conduct Chinese language lessons in Putonghua in certain classes, grades or across the entire school if they evaluate that their conditions permit it, the bureau added.

‘Back on the right track’

The education chief also told Global Times that students’ activities at Hong Kong universities have been put “back on the right track.”

She said some university student unions were “instigating the anti-China sentiment and hatred toward the Chinese people” during the 2019 protests and unrest, but now universities have rolled out measures in accordance with national security law.

The University of Hong Kong. File photo: Supplied.

All eight University Grant Committee-funded universities in the city now have launched, or have announced that they are launching, compulsory national security courses. Most student unions have disbanded or are no longer recognised by the institution.

On Monday, the same day when Global Times published its report on Choi, the University of Hong Kong notified all undergraduate students that they will have to take a national security course in order to graduate.

As for whether authorities will pardon young suspects jailed over the 2019 protests, Choi told the tabloid that they “need to bear the legal responsibility” if they violated the law.

She added that law enforcement authorities “could take an evaluation” to see if they can help the imprisoned young protesters to restart studies or a career, “if those young people truly repent and correct their deeds.”

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Peter Lee

Peter Lee is a reporter for HKFP. He was previously a freelance journalist at Initium, covering political and court news. He holds a Global Communication bachelor degree from CUHK.