16 September 2019
Priscilla Leung says Hong Kong's liberal studies classes have prompted students to develop a negative image about China. Photo: HKEJ
Priscilla Leung says Hong Kong's liberal studies classes have prompted students to develop a negative image about China. Photo: HKEJ

Will schools again become a political battleground?

Is Liberal Studies, a mandatory subject in secondary school curriculums, fueling the anti-China feelings that many of Hong Kong’s youth harbor nowadays? Is the education system partly to blame for the resentment toward Beijing?

These are the questions being raised by some pro-Beijing lawmakers and academics as tensions rise in the city over China’s rigid stance on political reforms.

Priscilla Leung Mei-fun, a pro-Beijing lawmaker and a law professor at the City University of Hong Kong, told a mainland media outlet on Monday that Liberal Studies is the key problem in the Hong Kong education sector.

The subject is helping create an anti-China mindset among secondary school students, as teachers always point out to students the “negative stuff” in China such as detention of activists, abuse of power and corruption issues while ignoring the positive aspects of Chinese economic and social development, she said in an interview.

That’s the reason, Leung says, for the lack of love among Hong Kong students toward China. One-sided teaching has left many students holding a poor opinion about the mainland, prompting a reluctance to recognize themselves as Chinese. Some youngsters even waved the Union Jack, the British national flag, in recent protest marches, she noted.

To educate the youngsters and inculcate patriotism, Leung suggested that the government should again make Chinese History a mandatory subject for all students, replacing the current Liberal Studies course. That will help the youth learn about the “glorious history” of China and develop a positive view toward the motherland, she said.

Liberal Studies, which is aimed at helping students develop an open mind through critical thinking, breaks the boundary of “science” and “arts” camps in Hong Kong secondary schools. The subject allows students from both streams to develop the ability to analyze current affairs independently.

While the subject has no fixed curriculum like other traditional academic subjects, it succeeds in enhancing students’ awareness about current affairs, and helps them participate proactively in public and social activities. The establishment of Scholarism, a student group pushing for true democracy, is an example where Hong Kong students have taken the lead in public issues to push the city forward.

But pro-Beijing lawmakers, businessmen and academics are worried that students are getting carried away by the pro-democracy activists without too much thinking and concern about the motherland.

Two years ago when the government planned to kick off a controversial national education curriculum in both primary and secondary schools to foster knowledge about China, critics had accused the authorities of trying to brainwash students, like what happens in schools across the border. 

Beijing feels a love for the motherland should be a prerequisite among Hong Kong people and its leaders.

There is no doubt that schools are an important battlefield for Beijing to win the support of the youth and ensure social harmony. Where should one draw the line in fostering independent thinking on the students — this is the key issue for authorities.

Priscilla Leung says Liberal Studies is too “free” because teachers are allowed to talk about anything.

The comments indicate that a small group of pro-Beijing supporters are still seeking an opportunity to bring back the controversial national education.

While the “love PRC” concept can be a subject for debate, the pro-Beijing politician may have fired a wrong gun to show her loyalty to the Communist Party.  

In the end, what matters is whether a country respects its own people and guarantees full freedoms. That’s a lesson that everyone needs to keep in mind.

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EJ Insight writer