What kind of national education do we need?

A current hot issue in Hong Kong is definitely the Government’s intention to implement national education in primary schools in phases from the coming September. The government’s argument is that the implementation of national education is long overdue, as we are already fifteen years past the handover in 1997. Those who object to the Government’s plan assert that national education as it will be implemented by the Education Burea is tantamount to brainwashing.

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Every time when I’m in a foreign country and someone asks me whether I’m Chinese or whether I’m from China, I would sidestep the question and say: “I’m from Hong Kong.” Sixty-three years after the founding of the People’s Republic of China, and 15 years after the handover, I’m still not proud to say to foreigners that I’m from China, even though in terms of sovereignty, I am.

What is the point of national education, if we don’t have a motherland that we can be proud of?

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So on an emotional level, like many people in Hong Kong, I am opposed to national education. Now the Government may say: That is exactly why we need national education. so that we will understand China better, and probably construct our national identity, now that we are a part of China.

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I think many people in Hong Kong do have a certain degree of national identity. For example, I will cheer for China in the Olympics. I will detest Japan for claiming to own Diaoyu Island. But I do not see why we should have a curriculum that solely focuses on national identity. To me, we should enlarge our horizon, and explore our Chinese identities.

For example, I love Chinese literature. And when I am involved in an ELT project in China, I feel a strong responsibility to help improve their teaching and learning. Yet, I hate it when a tourist from China walks right into me in Tsimshatsui; when manufacturers in China produce poisoned food just to make more money; and when my friends in China can’t even access my blog on WordPress. I’m all supportive of a component in the school curriculum in HK where students can explore their Chinese identities. What does it mean to be ‘Chinese’? What does it mean to be ‘a Chinese’? What are the rights and obligations of a Chinese citizen? Unfortunately, National Education, because of its name, because it’s top down, and because it’s compulsory, (and also because what the state has done in suppressing freedom of speech and human rights), puts people off. So even if the Education Bureau is well-intentioned and sincere, and that National Education is doing what I suggested above (helping students to explore their Chinese identities, and not, as some people fear, brainwashing people into loving the Chinese govt and the Communist Party), the fact that it is called national education will only attract more gut rejection from the public and the education sector.

And indeed, is the Education Bureau sincere about national education? Do their officers have no knowledge of how strongly Hong Kong people will feel about it? Or, are they simply putting on a show to please Beijing?

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