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Politics

Hong Kong students learn new lesson: respect China's laws

Once regarded as a bastion of free thought, city's education takes a drastic turn

Hong Kong students attend a flag raising ceremony during morning assembly ahead of National Security Education Day.   © Reuters

HONG KONG -- Hong Kong has been renowned for its liberal education system aimed at fostering free, intellectual and critical thinking, but that is beginning to change as the city has begun to fully adopt a curriculum favored by state-run schools on the mainland. 

The drastic move in Hong Kong, a special administrative region of China that Beijing has promised a certain degree of autonomy, follows massive pro-democracy demonstrations and the subsequent implementation of a controversial national security law in the former British colony.

Faced with this reality, a growing number of anxious parents are now considering moving overseas in the hope of giving their children access to education that is not dominated by the Chinese Communist Party. According to The Sunday Times, more than 35,000 Hong Kong citizens applied for a new visa scheme, which lets them stay in the U.K. to work and study for up to five years, within the first ten weeks since it was launched at the end of January. 

On April 15, Hong Kong marked "National Security Education Day."  Government-organized events were held to make Hong Kong residents understand the importance of China's national security. 

The National Security Education Day was the first since the Hong Kong national security law came into force at the end of June. The government touted the day with fanfare, including goose-stepping Hong Kong police officers and the release of police action figures dressed in riot gear. The front pages of pro-establishment newspapers were filled with advertisements about national security.

Chinese flag-raising ceremonies were also held at schools across the city. The government also distributed bookmarks that read "national security" to kindergartens.

The Hong Kong national security law stipulates that the city government promote national security education at schools and through the internet to make residents respect China's national security.

Behind all these moves is the Chinese authorities' conviction that there were fundamental flaws in Hong Kong's education system, leading to the massive demonstrations that drew 1 million people in the city of 7.5 million into the streets in 2019. Many young people, including junior and senior high school students, took part in the pro-democracy protests.

Now this review of the education system looks set to proceed at a relentless pace.

In February, the Hong Kong government unveiled a national security education curriculum for the first time. Under the new curriculum, children will start leaning about the four main offenses in the national security law, such as "separatism" and "subversion," in first grade.

At junior and senior high schools, students are expected to have a deep understanding of the Belt and Road Initiative, which calls for creating a greater economic zone linking China with Europe by land and sea.

On the other hand, 'liberal studies' which pro-China factions in Hong Kong have long been critical of, will be switched to a subject called "citizenship and social development."

According to a notice issued this month by the Hong Kong's Education Bureau, the new subject will focus on teaching the Chinese constitution, national security and China's five-year plan, among other things. The objective is to foster Chinese national consciousness among Hong Kong's youth.

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