The revival of the national education curriculum, which the government was forced to shelve in 2012 amid widespread opposition, is likely to be the next arena of struggle between the pro-democracy groups and the Leung Chun-ying administration.
The goal of winning the hearts and minds of the young generation has become a major issue after the students showed their capacity for independent and critical thinking that has allowed them to lead the ongoing Occupy campaign for genuine universal suffrage.
While protesters continue to occupy the main roads in Admiralty, Causeway Bay and Mong Kok without a sign that they will wrap up the campaign any time soon, the Hong Kong government is looking beyond the horizon to ensure that such a campaign will never happen again in the territory.
As the government assesses the Occupy movement, and its ability to maintain its momentum for a number of weeks, it sees not the people’s democratic aspirations as the dynamo that energizes the movement, but blames the students’ liberal studies as the culprit.
In the government’s thinking, the students have not been guided properly in their development. They have been allowed to stray into dangerous schools of thought and western ideologies that have filled them with hunger for liberalism and unbridled freedom.
The government now plans to reduce the proportion of political issues in the upcoming revised liberal studies curriculum, and bring back the study of the “one country, two systems” principle, including the Basic Law, the relationship between Hong Kong and China, and China’s modern history starting from the Communist Party’s rise to power in 1949, so as to nurture the students’ love of their motherland.
If there is anything that the Occupy movement has shown to the pro-Beijing groups, it is the fact that the government has failed to guide Hong Kong’s youth to “love China and love Hong Kong”, to become patriotic, which means to be loyal to the Communist Party and accept China’s sovereignty over the territory.
A survey by the Chinese University of Hong Kong showed that more than 60 percent of youngsters aged 15 to 24 support the Occupy movement, which is evidence that the city’s liberal studies have nurtured the students’ critical and independent thinking, rather than inculcating respect for and obedience to authorities.
This is not a welcome development. For the pro-establishment groups, education is a tool to mould the minds of young people so that they will grow up loving their country and obeying their leaders.
And that’s the importance of reviving the national education curriculum in schools. For them, there is an urgent need to lay the foundation to cement the legitimacy of Communist rule over Hong Kong.
National education is nothing new to Hong Kong parents after the government unveiled plans to launch a separate school subject on China’s history two years ago.
While history is an important part of the youth’s civic education, the school curriculum, as drafted, revealed that teachers were required to project a positive image for China, especially with regard to controversial issues that hounded the Communist Party since it took the helm in 1949.
Parents quickly realized that the intention of such education was nothing more than brainwashing their children into loyal followers of the Communist rulers. Thousands of concerned parents and students took to the streets to demand that such subject not be taught in schools.
Faced with widespread opposition from the public, the government was forced to abandon the plan, announcing that schools would decide for themselves whether to include national education in their curriculum.
Parents worried that making national education a required subject would turn their children into uncritical followers of the Communist regime. While there are professional teachers who are likely to present both the positive and negative aspects in China’s development as a nation, the curriculum could limit the scope of teaching to giving only the bright side of Communist rule.
Training students to develop a critical attitude is one of the core goals of the current subject of liberal studies.
It is this ability to think independently and critically that has allowed students to become aware of social issues and respond to them. It is this kind of education that has developed students to become active members of the community and use their individual and collective power to change society.
In the past few years, Hong Kong developed a studentry that is deeply devoted to their city and jealously protective of the values that make it unique despite the transfer of sovereignty to China in 1997.
It is this love for their city that has prompted the students to oppose the demolition of the Queen’s Pier and the construction of a high-speed railway system that is meant to hasten the city’s integration with the mainland.
It is also this mindset that has prompted them to uphold Hong Kong’s interests whenever it runs counter to China’s demands and priorities.
Central authorities are understably worried about this kind of mindset. It may give rise to the danger of Hong Kong clamoring for independence. That is something that China’s leaders will not allow.
And so for the sake of preserving its hold over Hong Kong and the rest of the country, Beijing must nurture the youth’s mentality into one that considers the motherland as the object of their love and the Communist rule as worthy of their allegiance.
But should the government revive this patriotic education, a fresh wave of protests could shake the territory once more.
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