Hong Kong Imposes Sweeping Pro-China Curriculum on Schools

Hong Kong ordered schools to adopt a more patriotic curriculum and advised teachers to report any breaches of the city’s national security law, the government’s biggest move yet to overhaul the education system following the protests of 2019.

The measures, announced late Thursday, seek to inculcate patriotism to kindergarten-age children through “story-telling, role-playing, drawing, singing, dancing and other activities.” Students as young as six will be taught to memorize offenses criminalized by the national security law, which was imposed on the city by China last year, including subversion, secession, terrorism and collusion with foreign powers. The curriculum will cover all subjects from geography to biology.

“The fundamentals of national security education are to develop in students a sense of belonging to the country, an affection for the Chinese people, a sense of national identity, as well as an awareness of and a sense of responsibility for safeguarding national security,” Hong Kong’s Education Bureau said in a statement.

The new curriculum may also impact Hong Kong’s approximately 52 international schools, which largely cater to the city’s expatriate population. The government statement said that international schools have the “responsibility” to help their students “acquire a correct and objective understanding” of the law, without elaborating.

No international school Bloomberg reached out to was available for immediate comment.

Cutting Off ‘Black Hands’

Beijing has blamed Hong Kong’s education system for fostering dissent and fueling the months-long protests opposing the Chinese government’s increasing power over the former British colony. Hong Kong authorities have previously vowed to “cut off” the “black hands” -- including teachers -- deemed insufficiently patriotic.

The Hong Kong government attempted to introduce a patriotic education curriculum in 2012, but shelved the decision following massive protests. The latest attempt to do so will bring the financial hub further in line with the education system in mainland China, where students are, for example, required to study the teachings of President Xi Jinping.

University and high school students comprised a majority of the frontline protesters in the 2019 unrest, and people under 18 represented almost a fifth of the roughly 10,000 arrests made as of last December, according to data complied by Bloomberg. Students also organized protest activities including forming human chains and class boycotts, actions forbidden under the new rules.

Ip Kin-yuen, a former lawmaker and a vice-president of the Hong Kong Professional Teachers’ Union, said that the new guidelines are “not conducive for learning or fostering the development of young minds,” and that in an environment where people are trying to avoid getting into trouble “the natural response will be self-censorship.”

Owl Video

As part of its promotion materials, the government produced a 7-minute animation featuring an owl explaining the concept of national security, saying it covers all aspects of Hong Kong society including culture, cybersecurity, and ecology. The video also says that it’s the “right and duty of the Central Authorities to enact the National Security Law,” and that other countries have similar laws.

Garrie Chow, a father with three children in Hong Kong schools, said the new curriculum means that students are “not allowed to have independent thinking.”

In September, the English Schools Foundation, which operates 22 international schools in the city, released and distributed a 15-page set of guidelines directing teachers to tell students that the classroom isn’t a “safe space” for discussion or debate of the national security law, the South China Morning Post reported. ESF did not immediately respond to Bloomberg’s request for comment.

Migration Wave

The imposition of the new curriculum could add to the already surging number of people emigrating to places like the U.K. and Taiwan. Some parents and teachers have cited Beijing’s growing control over Hong Kong schools as a major reason for leaving.

Jojo, a 37-year old Chinese and special education teacher who would only give her first name due to security fears, said she is seeking to relocate to the U.K. later this year, joining thousands of others who have already done so via a pathway made available to Hong Kong holders of the British National (Overseas) passport. She is part of a WhatsApp group with 120 other local teachers that helps educators obtain the skills and certifications needed to secure employment in the U.K.

“The students will have to follow along (with the rules), but it will severely impact their personal relationship with us,” Jojo said. “They won’t trust us.”

©2021 Bloomberg L.P.

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