In this year’s budget, spending on Social Harmony and Civic Education, which involves funding for national education, has increased by 15 per cent from last year to HK$70 million. Meanwhile, the funding for Individual Rights, which involves educating the public about rights and equality, has decreased by 65 per cent to HK$15 million.
Leung Yan-wing, co-head of the Centre for Citizenship Education of the Hong Kong Institute of Education, says, although there are multiple approaches to national education in Hong Kong, there is a dominant mainstream. This mainstream promotes a positive discussion and is driven by the government.
“Institutes that aim at producing critical patriots are the weak sectors of the civil society – weak in the sense that they don’t have many resources,” says Leung. He explains that organisations with a positive approach such as the National Education Centre get more funding to produce visually attractive teaching materials and organise free exchange programmes. Those with a more critical approach can only produce unattractive teaching materials such as black and white booklets with few illustrations.
“You can imagine a teacher who already has many subjects to teach, and now he has to teach national education too… Naturally they would choose the highly supported package from the one-sided, mainstream national education,” Leung explains.
The dominance of the mainstream view of national education is not going unnoticed or unchallenged. In February, Ivan Lam Long-yin, a Form Five student at United Christian College (Kowloon East) founded the student activist group SchoolWILL on the social networking site Facebook. He wanted to provide a more casual platform for secondary school students to have political discussions, particularly on topics about national education and liberal studies.
Lam believes there is a lack of discussion in the national education he and his peers receive. He says teachers follow syllabuses and use course materials that are detached from current issues in China. “Without discussion, our understanding of our country can never keep up with changing events,” says Lam. He adds students cannot form their own opinions about the changes in society because without open discussion, they lack the analytic tools and will be constrained by their teachers’ ways of thinking.
Lam also disagrees with the government’s proposal to set up an individual subject of “Moral and National Education” in schools. He says this will encourage certain model points of views, and the space for discussion will further decrease.
“When we feel good about our country by only knowing about the good stuff like rocket launches or other big events, we support our country only because of the nationality written on our passports, and not because we truly understand what has happened to our country,” says Lam.
Lam says his feelings for China include feelings of sadness for the bad things that have happened and his sense of identity comes from his memories of Hong Kong. He says his connection to his friends and family here make it impossible to detach himself from his identity as a Hongkonger.
In the past, Lam did not consider himself a Chinese. Now he has a better understanding that China’s problems are due to its under-development and he feels a responsibility to help. “I don’t want to see Chinese people being bullied,” Lam says simply, “I am a Chinese.”
Leung Yan-wing from the Institute of Education says national identity is only a part of our multi-dimensional identity. He believes that before we belong to any country we are first part of the human race.
“We are all human,” says Leung. “National identity and cultural uniqueness should be discussed under the framework that we are all global citizens with fundamental human rights. We should be aware of this order to the point where sometimes we are able to let go of the concept of national interest for the betterment of mankind.”