The chief secretary bid farewell to around 200 Hong Kong high school pupils at the high-speed rail station as they embarked on a mandatory visit to mainland China on Monday morning.
It marks the city’s first-ever compulsory field trip to the mainland after visits were listed as part of a new course that replaced Liberal Studies in 2021.
Due to Covid-19, students were temporarily exempted from joining field trips to the mainland last year. However, the arrangement resumed as all Hong Kong-China borders were fully reopened in March.
Chief Secretary Eric Chan said around 40,000 high schoolers were expected to visit China this year, while the city’s education secretary said last month that over 22,000 students had already signed up for mainland field trips in April and May, as of mid-March.
No reports from students were required to be submitted to the authorities, and relevant coursework, if any, remained school-based, Chan added.
The group of fifth-year students left West Kowloon High-Speed Rail Station at 7 am on Monday to begin the two-day field trip to Guangzhou and Shenzhen. The itinerary includes visits to historic heritage sites and tech companies, according to local media reports.
One of the participants told journalists that their school was mandating a 1,000-word report following their trip.
The report is expected to cover various topics, including the ways in which the Greater Bay Area can aid young people, or how youngsters can contribute to the economy of country.
Chan said he thought the students were excited about the trip, adding that – by visiting the mainland and gaining a deeper understanding of the country’s latest developments across different fields – students could make informed decisions about their future studies and avoid choosing the wrong university major.
The trips are part of the new Citizenship and Social Development (CS) subject for senior secondary students. CS replaced Liberal Studies, which pro-Beijing politicians blamed for fuelling the 2019 protests and unrest. It has more emphasis on mainland China and less on current affairs.
According to an Education Bureau circular, the purpose of the tours is to enable students to gain a “first-hand understanding” of China, and to develop an appreciation of Chinese culture and “their sense of national identity.”
Over 6,000 students from 60 schools registered to take part in the mainland study tour in April, while around 16,000 students from over 160 schools signed up for the May trip, Secretary for Education Christine Choi told the press last month. More than 200 schools have enrolled for departures in the period between June and August.
When asked by lawmakers and reporters last month about a rumour regarding unconvicted teachers not being allowed to cross the mainland border due to participation in the 2019 protests and unrest, Choi said she has not heard of such cases.
The costs, including meals, accommodation, insurance, and transportation, of all compulsory study tours under the CS syllabus is fully covered by the Education Bureau, the authority said.
Protests erupted in June 2019 over a since-axed extradition bill. They escalated into sometimes violent displays of dissent against police behaviour, amid calls for democracy and anger over Beijing’s encroachment. Demonstrators demanded an independent probe into police conduct, amnesty for those arrested and a halt to the characterisation of protests as “riots.”
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