Schools brace for another round of class boycotts

September 11, 2019 18:28
Students boycotting their classes stage a rally at Edinburgh Place in Central on Sept. 2. They plan to stage a second round of class boycotts and a rally in Sha Tin on Friday. Photo: Bloomberg

Students have shown no signs of ending their anti-government protests in the second week of the new school year.

On Monday morning, students and alumni from many secondary schools across the territory formed human chains outside their campuses.

By and large, the campaign was orderly and peaceful despite provocations from people who disagreed with their political views.

On Tuesday, Secretary for Education Kevin Yeung Yun-hung told reporters human-chain activities have been taking place outside schools this week.

“We observe that as the activities evolve, there seem to be more and more disturbances from the community, and also there were recently some cases of confrontation. So I think it is time that we have to have second thoughts," Yeung said.

"So we appeal to the students that they have to consider their own safety when attending these activities and we also appeal to schools and parents to try to ask their children to carefully consider when they attend these activities," he added.

In the first week of the month, a total of 337 secondary schools and over 16,000 students took part in class boycotts across the city, according to the Preparatory Platform of Class Boycotts in Secondary Schools.

The students have also given the government until Friday (Sept. 13) to meet the public's four other demands – after Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor announced on Wednesday last week the formal withdrawal of the extradition bill that sparked the unrest – otherwise they won't rule out escalating their protests.

The platform, meanwhile, announced plans to stage among secondary school students a second round of class boycotts and a rally in Sha Tin on Friday, while calling on students to join the mass actions.

An administration figure said that based on data collected by the Education Bureau (EDB) last week, the concern group could have inflated a bit the number of students participating in the class boycotts, although it is undeniable that a lot of students did participate in the activities.

But even so, the class boycotts didn’t disrupt the normal operation of most secondary schools last week, the source said.

As to the Sept. 13 “deadline” set by the students, another source said the EDB is playing a passive role, particularly since tensions in society have shown no signs of easing.

All the bureau can do is to keep close tabs on the situation and stay in touch with schools and their sponsoring bodies.

The government figure stressed that authorities are adopting a school-based approach in dealing with the situation.

Meanwhile, pro-establishment lawmaker Junius Ho Kwan-yiu has come under fire for allegedly interfering in the operation of some schools by sending teams of volunteers to monitor the class boycotts in a number of secondary schools last week.

It is understood that a number of schools had received letters from Ho’s office asking them to “notify” him about protest activities in respective campuses. The schools, in turn, reportedly sought advice from the EDB, which told them that they could simply ignore him.

The government figure didn’t confirm the news but stressed that the EDB, in monitoring the class boycotts last week, was not preparing to go after the students who participated.

The source reiterated that it is entirely up to schools themselves to decide professionally on whether to punish the students who have joined the class boycotts, and that any external interference in school management is not ideal.

Fung Wai-wah, president of the Hong Kong Professional Teachers' Union (HKPTU), said he isn’t concerned about the possibility of the class boycotts spinning out of control in the coming days, noting that the students are only voicing their demands through peaceful, rational and non-violent means.

Fung said he admitted hearing some talk that some schools did try to pressure their students not to join the class boycotts, but so far the HKPTU hasn’t received any formal complaint about it.

He said that based on his understanding, most schools would rather deal with the students through counseling and discussion.

He also told us that he didn’t notice any interference from the education bureau on how schools should deal with the class boycotts.

This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on Sept 10

Translation by Alan Lee with additional reporting

[Chinese version 中文版]

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Columnist of Hong Kong Economic Journal.