Revision of texts
Schoolbooks must
reflect Basic Law

By Christine Au

     Since Hong Kong has become a Special Administrative Region of China, many changes have been in the works. Changes in the contents of textbooks is one of them.
     The responsibility of overseeing textbooks lies in the Education Department. An independent advisory body, the Curriculum Development Council, provides advice on educational matters concerning kindergarten to Secondary 6 curricula.

       Christine Au
     Although suggestions from the Education Department are not mandatory, publishers usually follow suit. This is because the Education Department disseminates a recommended list of texts from which schools choose their books.
     In December 1995, the Education Department issued a guideline instructing publishers on how to make changes in the content of the textbooks. According to the guideline, everything must be in line with the Basic Law and the Joint Declaration. All traces of colonial administration must be removed.
     The major change is in terminology. For example, “Governor” must be changed to “Chief Executive.” Names of government departments should also be modified accordingly. Phrases like “Hong Kong and China” must be rephrased as “Hong Kong and the Mainland” since China is not a neighbouring country. Moreover, the political structure of the SAR government should be described in detail.
     Another emphasis is on the relationship between the SAR government and the Central Government. The concept of “one country, two systems” should constitute a major part of the textbooks.
     In addition, the Chinese government has a fixed attitude about Taiwan. The principle of “one China” has to be reflected in the contents of texts.
     However, some controversies have arisen in these changes.
     The Democratic Party criticized a paragraph in a Form 2 economics and public affairs textbook describing the importance of communication between citizens and the government as a false interpretation of the meaning of basic civil rights such as demonstrations.
     Mr. Chan Kwok Leung, a member of the Democratic Party, pointed out that this was evidence of publishers’ self regulation.
     With regard to the much reduced coverage on Taiwan’s politics and economy, Ms Pauline Chow Lo Sai, chairperson of the Sixth Form History Subject Committee, also a member of the Advisory Committee on Curriculum Re-structuring and School-based Curriculum, agreed with some educators that such mending of the texts deprives students of knowledge.
     Said Ms Chow: “I do not see any need behind this move. Wordings are negotiable and open to modifications. We should still be concerned about the situation across the Strait.”
     The Education Department responded to some accusations by declaring that it tried to adopt a lenient attitude towards the revision of textbooks and avoided suppressing publishers’ views.
     Apart from the controversies, the changes caused some inconvenience for students. According to a survey done by the Kwai Ching Branch of the Democratic Party a week after the opening of schools, only 27 out of 100 students could get a complete set of textbooks because they had not been printed and distributed in time.
     In a recent press conference, Mr. Au Pak-yuen, vice-president of the Professional Teachers’ Union, pronounced that insufficient instructions given by the Education Department accounted for the delay.
     However, Ms Mei Mei Yu, spokesperson for Manhattan Publication Company, disagreed. She considered the guidelines by the Education Department to be clear. No major problems were encountered in the process of publication.
     Nevertheless, some mistakes have been found in certain textbooks.
     Mr. Mervyn Cheung Man-ping, chairperson of the Hong Kong Education Policy Concern Organisation, is also a member of the Hong Kong Association for Continuing Education. He pointed out that in a sample chapter issued by one of the economics and public affairs textbook publishing companies, the page on the functional constituencies for the coming Legislative Council election is incorrect.
     Said Mr. Cheung: “Such a mistake should have been corrected.”
     Ms Chow of the History Subject Committee added that it was unforgivable for a big publisher to make such a mistake.
     For second-hand bookshop owners, changes in textbooks mean financial losses.
     “Some publishers produce a new edition just because they change a few words,” said Mr. Jacky Wong, owner of a second-hand bookstore in Mong Kok.
     “I’m pessimistic about the future of my business,” he said.
     In fact, the Education Department and publishers reached a compromise in March 1997: They agreed that, instead of reprinting books, it was better to insert extra pages in the original editions or supplement them with a page of corrections.

 Gifted kids' school      Abacus

November 1997

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