HK politicians to propose correcting anti-mainland education at national two sessions
Published: May 18, 2020 02:08 PM

Students and staff walk into the campus of Hong Kong Polytechnic University (PolyU) in Hong Kong, south China, Jan. 13, 2020. (Xinhua)


An inappropriate question in the Hong Kong special Special administrative Administrative region's Region's college entrance exam regarding China's modern history has been met with a backlash from both the authorities and society, calling into question the city's long-term flawed national education and inviting proposals from officials for change.

Hong Kong's deputies to the National People's Congress (NPC) and members of the National Committee of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC) , will raise the issue of Hong Kong's education when they attend the upcoming two sessions in Beijing.

The question in the history exam for the Diploma of Secondary Education (DSE) on Thursday asked students if they agreed Japan did more good than harm to China between 1900 and 1945. The materials given to students for reference implied the question had a positive answer, without giving any mention to China's War of Resistance against Japanese Aggression (1931-45).

Basa Leung, a post-1990's Hongkonger and political commentator, told the Global Times that the question in the DSE history exam "made him tremble." 

"There shouldn't be such a question. As a Chinese, this kind of question is not worth answering or even debating," said Leung.

Secretary for Education Kevin Yeung Yun-hung said at a Friday press conference that the Education Bureau would ask the Hong Kong Examinations and Assessment Authority (HKEAA) to invalidate the question, saying the attached reading materials were "biased" and the question "deviated from objective facts."

The bureau is set to send staff to the HKEAA on Monday to look into how it selects exam questions. The HKEAA will also hold a special meeting on Monday, which is expected to invalidate the controversial question.

But pan-democracy figures are reportedly mulling a plan to launch a judicial review should the HKEAA invalidate the question.

This is just one of a number of cases that have involved Hong Kong's controversial education system in recent years. In late April, a teacher from Ho Lap Primary School told pupils that the first Opium War, which started in 1840 and resulted in China ceding Hong Kong Island to Britain, was the result of Britain's attempt to stop opium smoking in China, media reported. 

The school later apologized, and the Education Bureau said the teacher's words were "untrue and unacceptable." 

Distorted views

Leung, who received his education in Hong Kong, said it is common for Hong Kong exam papers and mock exam papers to use negative news about the mainland or preconceived opinions to distort views of China's system. 

"It's said that Hong Kong's education teaches students to think critically and objectively. But with misleading materials, how can one be objective?" Leung asked. 

Leung pointed to questions in the 2017 history exam as an example. One material cited a newspaper run by the Communist Party of China published an article in 1943 said that "the US plays an exemplary role for China, whose democratic politics was relatively disadvantageous, and we the people endorse the West" and then asked examinees about the author's opinion of the US. 

"One can easily answer that US democracy was unconditionally endorsed," said Leung.

The same year, another history question asked examinees about their concerns for Hong Kong's future, while the materials given for reference included a survey in 1982 which claimed that 70 percent of respondents hoped Hong Kong remained as a colony of the UK.

And in a 2012 official mock exam paper for liberal studies, one question implied that the rice in the mainland was toxic, creating panic among Hong Kong people.

The subject of liberal studies is considered to have played an influential role in prompting students to take to the streets during the anti-national education campaign in 2012, the illegal "Occupy Central" movement in 2014, and last year's social unrest triggered by the now-withdrawn extradition bill.  

In 2012, the Hong Kong government was forced to withdraw its plan to implement the national education curriculum, which was aimed at helping enhance Hong Kong people's national identity, after tens of thousands of protesters took to the street.

Some online posts also revealed that teachers of liberal studies, a compulsory subject since 2009 aimed at fostering "critical" thinking skills among Hong Kong senior secondary school students, told students that the US invasion of Iraq was aimed at stabilizing its oil supply and that China's Belt and Road Initiative constituted economic aggression. 

Years of such distorted education is also believed to have incited anti-mainland sentiment among some Hongkonges.

Unlike for other subjects, the Education Bureau does not scrutinize reference materials for liberal studies, and publishers print and sell reference materials as textbooks, leaving room for divergence between Hong Kong and the mainland. 

"Hong Kong education advocates the so-called concept of diverse values, but it leads to a pernicious area, which is nihilism of values," Tang Fei, a member of the Chinese Association of Hong Kong and Macao Studies and principal of Hong Kong's Heung To Secondary School (Tseung Kwan O), told the Global Times.

Steps for change

Calls for change have been growing, especially since the controversy over the question in the history exam paper. 

Earlier this month, Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor said her government would deal with the issue of liberal studies by the end of this year.

Hong Kong's delegates to the upcoming two sessions, who serve as a bridge between Hong Kong and the mainland, also plan to raise suggestions of how to promote national identity in Hong Kong's education.

The two sessions this year are considered important occasions for Hong Kong delegates to address the city's ongoing social issues, as it will be the first nationwide political gathering since the months-long protests in the special administrative region. 

The NPC deputies and CPPCC National Committee members from the pro-establishment Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong (DAB) will suggest measures to improve Chinese history education. 

Chan Yung, vice chairman of the DAB and an NPC deputy, told the Global Times that Hong Kong must educate its young people to better understand Chinese history and national conditions. He added that they will suggest proposals such as establishing an institute that includes Hong Kong experts in charge of this type of education, bringing historical relics from the mainland to exhibit in Hong Kong, and offering opportunities to Hong Kong students to take part in exchanges related to China's national history and culture. 

Wong Kwan-yu, president of the Hong Kong Federation of Education Workers and a Hong Kong deputy to the NPC, told the Global Times that he will raise three suggestions related to education at the NPC. 

"I will suggest that the mainland and Hong Kong set up a joint university in Hong Kong, utilizing the Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macao Bridge to tell true stories about China,  and letting Hong Kong teachers have the same privileges as mainland teachers, such as entry for free or at half price when visiting tourist sites in the mainland. All these measures aim at boosting Hongkongers' understanding of and mutual affection with the mainland," said Wong.

Wong also noted that there is one lever that has been ignored but can be utilized - the Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macao Bridge.

"The country is promoting the development of the Greater Bay Area. But to many young people in Hong Kong, it is only a geographical concept. I will suggest setting up an exhibition hall somewhere, say in Zhuhai, to tell the story of the bridge and the Greater Bay Area. From the bridge, we can see Chinese wisdom and many technological breakthroughs. We can organize for Hong Kong students to visit the exhibition hall to better understand the development prospects of the Greater Bay Area and the efforts the country is making in developing this area. This can also be seen as part of the long desired national education," Wong said. 

He told the Global Times that his third suggestion is to offer incentives for Hong Kong's teachers to visit the mainland.

"One problem in Hong Kong's education is that many teachers, influenced by the social sentiment, hold negative views toward the mainland, and they will then influence their students. So I will suggest letting them have the same privileges as mainland teachers, such as entry for free or at half price when visiting tourist sites in the mainland," said Wong, adding that this will encourage Hong Kong's teachers to go to the mainland more and form a better understanding of it.