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Battle for Hong Kong’s young minds | Jack Kwan

Students enrolled in primary and secondary schools are one step closer to conforming to China’s nationalistic worldview, following the recent release of the Curriculum Framework of National Security Education in Hong Kong. Compiled by the city’s Education Bureau (EDB) for heads of schools, the Framework provides meticulous details on how elements of national security education will be planted into existing syllabi of selected school subjects, including two at the primary level, four at the junior secondary level and eight at the senior secondary level.

A closer look at individual curriculum documents may prompt many Hongkongers to raise their eyebrows in disbelief, particularly for those with their loved ones currently attending local schools.

Under the new curricula, primary school students will learn from their General Studies and Chinese Language classes a number of concepts pertaining to China’s wide-ranging types of national security and the local government’s hardline policies aimed at upholding the will of the ruling regime. On top of that, topics related to China’s ‘unique’ history, culture and national conditions will also be presented to the young learners, understandably for instilling a deep sense of national pride among them from an early age.

Secondary school students taking Business, Accounting and Financial Studies are expected to readily cite cases of the Belt and Road Initiative and the Sino-American trade war as examples, when showcasing their understanding on the opportunities and challenges faced by China as a key player in international affairs. Meanwhile, Chemistry students having completed course modules on metals, industrial chemistry, and fossil fuels and carbon compounds will be guided to categorically agree on an official line that it is necessary to safeguard ecological security, resource security, nuclear security and ‘new field security.’ The last deals with security of the outer space, deep sea, polar glacier and biological world, according to China’s Ministry of Education (MOE). In a bid to promote the learning of national security beyond the classroom, the EDB further suggests that teachers arrange study tours to the Greater Bay Area where students can see firsthand the state’s successful implementation of environmental protection policies and the latest development of related facilities. A day trip to Daya Bay nuclear power plant is also being contemplated by the EDB for students taking Physics.

To implement the Framework in the upcoming academic year, schools are encouraged to adopt a “multi-pronged and coordinated” approach to “enhance students’ sense of national identity and law-abiding awareness so as to safeguard national security.” Apparently, there is no room for delay in the implementation (and therefore leaving virtually no time for consultation with stakeholders) since it is a statutory requirement on the part of the Hong Kong government to promote national security education in schools and universities, as stipulated in Article 10 of the National Security Law. Nor is there any leeway on the curricula’s “key learning areas,” for those pedagogical contents are likely modeled after the MOE’s Guiding Outline for National Security Education in Universities, Middle Schools and Primary Schools. Promulgated in September 2020, the Guiding Outline represents a key step toward thoroughly implementing Xi Jinping’s “overall national security outlook” which has helped further his authoritarian rule nationwide by emphasizing the importance of political, economic, territorial, social and cyber security.

For obvious reasons, what went missing from the Framework and the Guiding Outline are topics related to universal values such as human rights, democracy and constitutional government; press freedom; civil society; citizen’s rights; shortcomings of the Chinese Communist Party since its founding; the state’s financial and political elite; and judicial independence — collectively known as the ’’Seven Taboos’’ which were identified by Xi in 2013 as problematic ideologies from the West. Since then, open discussion involving those topics have largely been banned on campuses across China. For anyone naïve enough to cross the arbitrarily-imposed ‘red line,’ the punishment could be disciplinary action, fine or jail sentence.

Soon, the same may happen to schools and universities in Hong Kong. Before that battle begins, like-minded parents and teachers should work together to find out what exactly is being taught to the young minds at school.

(Dr Jack Kwan is a MIT-trained consultant based in Boston.)

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