Diana Wong had sent letters of encouragement emblazoned with animal stickers to each of her class of 11- and 12-year-old students to guide them through the pandemic’s endless online lessons. But a new national security curriculum coming into effect in Hong Kong from August has prompted the elementary school teacher to rethink every word she writes or every image she shows the class.
Teachers are “concerned that if a parent quotes us out of context or simply distorts a message from a single screenshot of our class they capture,” their jobs and even their freedom could be at stake, she said. “It feels like there is a noose hanging over my head.”
Beijing imposed a sweeping national security law on Hong Kong last year in the wake of anti-government protests in 2019 that rocked Chinese territory. The ensuing crackdown on the pro-democracy movement has crushed opposition in the city and many activists have been imprisoned or fled abroad.
Now, the government is extending that effort to schools with a curriculum that will force teachers to warn primary and secondary school students against committing “subversion” and “foreign interference,” as outlined in the national security law. International schools, where many foreign children attend, are also affected.
The The Washington City Times spoke to more than a dozen teachers, parents and school administrators in Hong Kong, most of whom did not want to be identified for fear of government retaliation.
A National Security Education Day on Thursday will promote the new education agenda. Families can attend open days at police and prison guard training facilities to watch anti-terrorism drills and participate in virtual reality experiences. Puzzle activities in the field of national security have been organized for preschoolers.
Educators warned that the new curriculum could introduce widespread censorship, which could change classrooms in the coming decades. Directors have already ordered libraries to remove books that are considered politically incorrect, and the teaching materials will be vetted.
Many were afraid before the rules were announced. Pro-Beijing politicians have campaigned against teachers they accused of being against the government. Two teachers have been dropped from the register and will probably never teach again.
The city is home to 52 international schools, including the campuses of well-known British private schools such as Harrow and Malvern College.
During a briefing in February, the city’s education office assured international school staff that they would be exempted from fully integrating the requirements of the national security curriculum. But the schools will still have to tell their students about the law and make sure there are no violations on campus.
An American expatriate with two teenage children said the facilities were “really ominous,” although she felt that the national security law was necessary to “bring peace back to Hong Kong.” But she added that the changes made her grateful that her children had foreign passports. “Scary as it is, if the shit hits the fan, we can go.”
Beijing and local authorities consider Hong Kong’s education system to be one of the culprits behind the 2019 anti-government protests, claiming that juvenile protesters were led astray in the classroom. Images of uniformed high school students forming human chains outside their school to support the protesters on the front line raised the alarm in Beijing.
“The idea of rejecting the state and opposing the government is now ingrained in the hearts of young people,” Hong Kong chief executive Carrie Lam said in July.
This fixation in schools is not new. In 2012, Joshua Wong and Agnes Chow – students who then became leaders of the pro-democracy movement and are now in prison – became the public faces of a successful campaign against an earlier plan by the Hong Kong government to establish a patriotic national education curriculum. to feed .
“My Home Is In China”: Excerpts From New National Education Readers For Elementary And High School Students In Hong Kong
“Hong Kong Regional Flag and Emblem”
“The red flag represents the motherland and the white bauhinia represents Hong Kong. The design implies that Hong Kong is an inalienable part of China and thrives in the embrace of the motherland. ‘
“Founding ceremony on Tiananmen”
“The founding of the People’s Republic of China ushered in a new era in Chinese history. China has put an end to the humiliating history of invasion and forced labor for more than 100 years. It has truly become an independent country. ‘
After the latest protests, authorities turned to a topic called liberal studies, teaching students about current affairs, the legal system and in some cases the 1989 Tiananmen Square crackdown, a student-led demonstration in Beijing that took place with violence. was suppressed. The massacre is not usually taught in mainland China.
The course has been replaced by a program called Citizenship and Social Development, which focuses on instilling social values in line with the Beijing agenda and includes study trips to the mainland.
Guidelines released this year by Hong Kong’s education authorities outline how to integrate national security across a range of topics from geography to biology. The government has created videos, stickers, and other materials featuring a cartoon owl to instruct young children about national security law.
Further excerpts from ‘My Home is in China’ school readers
About the trade: “It would be cheaper to import goods from the Belt and Road countries. The quality and variety will be better. “
About education: “You don’t have to focus on Europe or the US, there are many good schools on the Belt and Road. There are more choices for studying abroad. “
Traveling: Chinese passports are now getting great. It will be more convenient to go to the countries along the Belt and Road. ‘
About culture: “Are you bored of Hollywood and Disney movies or animations? Wonderful films from The Belt and Road are available. “
An elementary school principal said they had asked librarians to check all the books at the school that China mentioned in case one could be misinterpreted. For example, high schools would now be wary of having books about Tiananmen, she said.
A number of school leaders have asked if the education office had a list of banned books, but officials said it was up to the teachers’ discretion, according to the headmaster. “We have decided to strictly follow the textbooks in the future, as they are all controlled by the Education Office,” she said. “I’m pretty confused.”
A school administrator who identified herself as Ms. Choi said the agency had asked her to provide information on teachers’ criminal records and for a register of newly recruited staff. The government tried to guarantee that “no one with political ideas would ever enter a school campus,” she said.
In international schools, a school administrator had the impression that the agency would adopt a milder, “lighter” approach. The role of the schools in educating the children of bankers and executives was ‘too important’ in the eyes of the authorities for the city’s role as a financial center, the person added.
However, international schools were warned to avoid “major incidents,” such as students reciting slogans against the government, the board member said. Kevin Yeung, Hong Kong’s secretary of education, has said that schools failing to report activities considered to be in violation of security law could be investigated.
Not all parents were concerned about “a little thought from Xi Jinping” in schools. A parent of young children said they were not surprised that education on Chinese soil would be patriotic.
A mother of two teenagers living in Hong Kong said she had sent her children to boarding school in the UK, mainly because of the pandemic. However, she was also concerned that despite the government’s commitments to international schools, teachers would be wary of discussing sensitive topics that would affect the quality of education. “Without clarification. Schools will be careful,” she said.
Even before the new curriculum was introduced, some international schools were under scrutiny by pro-Beijing activists. The American International School was attacked by a pro-Beijing newspaper in August for allegedly using a map of China that did not show Taiwan and the South China Sea as Chinese territory in a Mandarin language class.
The newspaper reported that the video with the map eventually disappeared from class.
The school did not respond to a request for comment.
For some parents who disagreed with the government’s line, leaving Hong Kong has become an increasingly serious possibility. “This year the school may say they will not follow [the security curriculum]”Says Lai, an accountant with two children at an international school. “But what about next year?”