Tens of thousands protest national education in Hong Kong schools

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A July 29 rally in Hong Kong drew tens of thousands of protesters against the government's “national education” plan, which has been met with concern by the Catholic Church and other religious bodies.

Protesters chanted slogans against “brainwashing” and “thought control,” and in favor of the “one country, two systems” arrangement between Hong Kong and mainland China, as they marched from Victoria Park to the territory's government headquarters.

While police estimates put the number of protesters around 32,000, organizers say the total turnout was around 90,000. The crowd included parents, children, teachers, and others concerned about the content and implementation of the proposed “National and Moral education” course.

On July 18, Catholic officials rejected a push by the Hong Kong Education Bureau to have schools adopt the curriculum for the 2012-2013 year. Critics fear the program will resemble mainland Chinese “patriotic education” in its ultra-nationalist and pro-Communist aspects.

Hong Kong's Catholic diocese was joined by local Anglicans and Lutherans in declining to make the changes this year. Schools were offered $530,000 grants for implementation of the curriculum, which will become mandatory for primary schools in 2015 and for secondary schools four years later.

Antony Yip Sing-piu, an assistant to the country's bishops, was quoted in the local press on July 19 as stating that Catholic schools would not introduce the plan “the way it has been proposed.”

A recently-formed diocesan task force is currently studying the issue. In the meantime, Yip said, Catholic schools are “responsible to parents and students” and “don’t necessarily have to use” the government grant for national education “even if it is given.”

However, the Church has indicated that it hopes to reach an agreement with Hong Kong officials before 2015, to implement the required changes in a manner acceptable to both sides.

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