Education overhaul will kill free thinking

February 11, 2021 08:37
Photo: RTHK

At first it seemed like a joke. But it’s no joke. The recent imposition of sweeping curriculum on schools will mean even kindergarten pupils must study national security through storytelling and roleplays. How do three-year-olds do national security roleplays? Dress up as the People’s Liberation Army?

Children as young as six must learn the four national security law offences: subversion, secession, terrorism, and colluding with foreign forces. How do you teach a six-year old about colluding with foreign forces? I am clueless.

Hongkongers have been arrested or charged with colluding with foreign forces for lobbying Western governments to promote democracy here. The security law’s definition of the offence is so vague that children at that age could grow up with a warped mind.

It is now a gamble under the law to meet with American, British, and other Western politicians. Hong Kong politicians no longer dare exchange views with Western diplomats here. The law’s definition of collusion is so broad, you never know if interacting with Western politicians is a crime.

To me, that’s Hong Kong’s loss. We are supposed to be an international city although the security law has made us less so in Western eyes. Does Beijing even care anymore about Western concerns of Hong Kong’s eroding freedoms? It seems not. That is more of a tragedy for Hongkongers than the West.

Will six-year-olds be taught never to discuss issues such as Hong Kong democracy with Westerners? I don’t know but I do feel sorry for the teachers who have to educate children about something as complex as colluding with foreign forces. There’s a real danger Hong Kong’s children will grow up with a mindset that all Westerners are a threat to China’s national security.

Children as young as six should be enjoying school, making new friends, and discovering what subjects they enjoy, not learning about terrorism, subversion, and secession. National security will not be a separate subject but will be incorporated into other subjects, including even biology, music, and geography.

The Oxford Dictionary defines biology as the study of living organisms, including their anatomy, behavior, and origin. I still remember dissecting a rabbit to study its anatomy at a biology class in high school. It baffles me how national security can fit into biology. Perhaps pupils will be taught the Chinese race is superior.

Incorporating national security into music lessons is also a head-scratcher. Music students learn the essential elements of music, including instrumentation, beat, and rhythm. One way teachers can include national security into music lessons is to make students learn the national anthem with every musical instrument, including using different beats and rhythms.

Incorporating national security into geography will be less tricky. Students will no doubt be taught Beijing’s so-called nine-dash line which says almost all of the South China Sea belongs to China. The question is will students also be taught that countries such as Vietnam and the Philippines also claim parts of the South China Sea.

The Philippines took the issue to a United Nations tribunal, which ruled in 2016 that China does not have historical claims to the disputed waters of the South China Sea. China refused to accept the ruling even though it claims it supports the UN. Will that be part of the national security geography lesson? We can only guess.

I have no problem with Hong Kong students being taught national security to instill patriotism even though it is an alien concept in most Western countries. In Western democracies, patriotism and national security, although important, are not forced on six-year-olds. They are free choices.

If Beijing and the local government believe it is good for the country, then go ahead. It’s their free choice, which I respect. But isn’t it overkill to include national security in biology and music subjects? And shouldn’t it be taught in an open way to encourage love of country with free and critical thinking instead of imposing red lines that send a chilling effect on schools and teachers?

Young people in free societies are naturally rebellious. They protest and oppose government policies they dislike. We are seeing that in our schools and universities now. It’s part of growing up. But most grow up to be law-abiding citizens.

Yet our rulers here and Beijing treat them as enemies undermining national security. Hong Kong’s solution to deal with these perceived enemies, which has Beijing’s fingerprints, is to impose national and patriotic education that disallows critical thinking but packaged as protecting national security.

Hong Kong people are not easily fooled. They can tell a deer from a horse. My belief is the education overhaul that emphasizes national security law will kill free thinking for Hong Kong’s future generations. I hope I am wrong.

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A Hong Kong-born American citizen who has worked for many years as a journalist in Hong Kong, the USA and London.