Ensuring safe cross-border travel for teachers, students

September 12, 2019 17:52
Given the tense environment in the wake of the anti-government protests, authorities need to look at the issue of safety of teachers and students travelling across the border, the writer says. Photo: Bloomberg

Following the months-long anti-extradition bill movement, there had been plenty of chatter that some Hong Kong citizens were facing extra scrutiny when they were crossing the border and traveling to mainland China.

According to discussions on online forums, as well as media reports, Chinese border officials have been questioning, and in some cases even detaining, people suspected of participating in or supporting the Hong Kong demonstrations.

Personal belongings, including mobile phones, were said to have been searched by the mainland authorities as they sought to determine if the travelers had taken part in the Hong Kong protests. 

The rumors and media reports have fueled worries among the education community, particularly among frontline teachers and students.

The concerns are understandable, given the fact that over 20,000 Hong Kong school students need to pass through border checkpoints every day. Also, many teachers and students often have to go on study tours to the mainland during long holidays.

As such, it would definitely constitute a very serious situation if the teachers and students get into trouble with the mainland authorities when they cross the border, or if some of the teachers and the students are prevented from entering the mainland.

In late August, the Hong Kong Professional Teachers' Union (HKPTU) carried out a survey in relation to the security risk that Hong Kong teachers and students may face when they go through mainland border checkpoints.

Among the 1,665 replies which the HKPTU has received, nearly 95 percent were from frontline teachers or subject panel heads.

And the findings were quite staggering.

Among the respondents, 93.6 percent said they are either “deeply concerned” or “quite concerned” about themselves or their colleagues getting detained when crossing the border.

Meanwhile, 91.4 percent said they are either “deeply concerned” or “pretty concerned” about their students getting detained when they go through mainland border checkpoints.

As we can see, the fear of detention by mainland authorities has become a very real and imminent concern.

In view of the situation, the Education Bureau (EDB) must take a serious look at the issue and adopt necessary measures in order to guarantee the safety of the teachers and students whenever they take part in cross-border school activities.

Given the large number of cross-border students and pupils who take part in cross-border school activities, the Bureau must come up with relevant solutions or special arrangements to allow a safe environment.

Meanwhile, schools should be encouraged to discuss with parents and frontline teachers personal safety issues to seek solutions that are acceptable to all parties, as well as formulate emergency measures, in case the teaching staff and students get into trouble when they go on mainland study tours.

If the safety of the teachers and students cannot be guaranteed, schools should temporarily suspend cross-border exchange activities.

This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on Sep 2

Translation by Alan Lee

[Chinese version 中文版]

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Legislative Council member from the education sector