23 July 2019
Pro-independence protesters take to the streets. Teachers won't risk being drawn to the independence debate for fear of losing their jobs. Photo: Reuters
Pro-independence protesters take to the streets. Teachers won't risk being drawn to the independence debate for fear of losing their jobs. Photo: Reuters

Why teachers and journalists are in the same leaky boat

Even the classroom is not immune from political interference.

I couldn’t agree more when a former student of mine who now works as a journalist commented on whether any discussion of Hong Kong independence should be allowed in schools.

Then I began to wonder how many teachers could be fearing for their jobs because of this.

As a school panel head of liberal studies and a regular teacher, I have a relatively secure job.

But the unfair employment system in the education sector means there are a big number of teachers who could only be employed on a contract basis due to the limited availability of regular positions.

Which is why it is not hard to imagine teachers who might evade sensitive issues such as separatism and self-determination under duress.

Why risk it when such subjects are unlikely to make it to the liberal studies exam papers in the Hong Kong Diploma of Secondary Education?

I wonder if my former student and his media colleagues face the same kind of pressure.

With freedom of speech constantly under attack, I have heard stories of journalists being made to undergo debriefings by their superiors each time their articles are pulled.

How many journalists have been fired or refused contract renewal if they refuse censorship?

I have no idea but I recognize this as a dilemma not unlike that faced by contract teachers.

The government or sponsoring bodies have no legal right to disqualify a registered teacher but they can make life difficult for him or her.

For instance, what’s to stop them from requiring teachers to pass a loyalty test similar to the requirement for candidates in the recent Legislative Council elections?

And what about those teachers and journalists who are not in the spotlight – those who quietly go about their tasks never wanting to be embroiled in any controversy?

This is where school principals and media bosses come in.

They should be ready to support their employees in those circumstances.

I was encouraged when Lee Suet-ying, who chairs the Hong Kong Association of the Heads of Secondary Schools, stood openly in August in support of teachers.

She said the campus should enjoy a high level of freedom in political discussions, adding teachers are capable of guiding students.

However, at the same time, it was disappointing that some sponsoring bodies decided to ban any such discussions in schools, particularly those relating to independence.

As for the media industry, I believe journalists, like my former student, are public exam high-flyers who have made the decision to commit their talents to the profession.

For that reason, editors-in-chief and media owners should uncategorically stand by their employees.

This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on Sept. 24.

Translation by Darlie Yiu

[Chinese version 中文版]

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Chairman of the Hong Kong Liberal Studies Teachers’ Association

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