Our government is attributing the political conflicts in our society in recent years to the lack of understanding of the Basic Law and the contemporary situation in China among our young people, and therefore it is putting a lot of effort in promoting education on the Basic Law.
Last week the Education Bureau published a set of visual teaching materials on the subject, which immediately drew criticism from the education sector.
As the mini-constitution of the HKSAR, the Basic Law is the most fundamental legal document of Hong Kong. Therefore, it is completely justifiable that it should be taught in schools. However, it remains questionable whether this set of teaching materials can enhance students’ understanding of the Basic Law.
It takes at least three elements for a teaching material on civic education to be considered qualified. Firstly, it must have a clear teaching objective, must be in line with education principles, and must not be aimed at serving any political purpose.
Secondly, the content must be objective, comprehensive and balanced.
Thirdly, the material should not contain any leading questions that are framed in a way that evokes a specific response from students.
In the preface to the recently published visual materials on the Basic Law, the Education Bureau states that they are aimed at helping students ponder over the Basic Law from different angles and enhancing their understanding of the Basic Law and the “one country, two systems” principle.
Unfortunately, I think this set of teaching materials has failed to do that.
First, the materials not only skirt many of the important issues about the Basic Law, but also fail to allow enough space for students to discuss and think about it.
For example, they put a lot of emphasis on the relationship between the central authorities and the SAR government, and when discussing the political system of Hong Kong, they only stress that the legitimacy of the chief executive to rule comes entirely from his official appointment by the central authorities.
There is almost no mention of political reforms and how the chief executive is elected.
In fact, the materials lay stress on the relationship between Beijing and the SAR government, while issues such as the civil rights of our citizens promised under the Basic Law, including universal suffrage, hardly get any mention. This violates the basic principles of constitutional education.
On the other hand, when it comes to certain politically sensitive topics, the materials obviously skirt some of the fundamental issues, making it difficult to foster an in-depth understanding of Hong Kong’s political reality among students.
For instance, when talking about the interpretation of the Basic Law by the National People’s Congress Standing Committee (NPCSC), the materials deliberately skip discussions on the social backlash against the interpretations made by the NPCSC since the handover and their profound negative impact on the rule of law in the city.
Instead, emphasis is placed almost entirely on the legal foundation of the NPCSC’s interpretations, ignoring all the opinions and points of view from various sectors of our society, especially the legal profession, that are against the NPCSC’s interpretations.
All the materials stress is that under Article 158 of the Basic Law, the power of the final interpretation of its provisions rests with the NPCSC.
How could anybody call this set of materials comprehensive and objective when it only offers a one-sided account and point of view on important social issues?
To make matters worse, some of the contents in the materials are obviously misleading. For example, in a chart that shows the structure of the SAR government, the chief executive is placed under the Hong Kong and Macau Office of the State Council, and the terms “direct subordination” and “authorization” are used, giving students the impression that the chief executive of Hong Kong is subordinate to the Hong Kong and Macau Office under the Basic Law.
When it comes to the separation of powers, the materials say the executive, legislative and judicial branches not only can check one another, but can also cooperate with one another, an obvious distortion of the concept of checks and balances.
Although the Basic Law is not an actual constitution, it is no doubt the paramount constitutional document that lays down the framework for the socio-political structure of Hong Kong.
Therefore, the teaching of the Basic Law in schools should be regarded as a kind of constitutional education.
A constitutional education curriculum cannot be considered successful nor morally acceptable unless it puts emphasis on the relationship between individuals and the state, civil rights and citizen duties.
In sum, the teaching materials fail to accommodate different points of view on controversial issues and are unable to provide students with a complete picture of the Basic Law, arousing public concern that the government is in fact trying to instill pro-Beijing ideas into students.
The article first appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on May 7
[Chinese version 中文版]
Translation by Alan Lee
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