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Tuesday, November 17, 2020, 01:34
Professionalism must be reinstated in Hong Kong’s education sector
By Ho Lok-sang
Tuesday, November 17, 2020, 01:34 By Ho Lok-sang

I recently wrote an open letter to the Hong Kong Professional Teachers’ Union, the special administrative region’s largest trade union for education-sector professionals. The HKPTU, by virtue of its sheer size, commands huge influence in Hong Kong. Every time there is an election, such as for membership in the 1,200-member Election Committee, candidates recommended by the HKPTU take all the seats in the education subsector. Similarly, the seat for the Legislative Council education functional constituency has always been taken by the HKPTU nominee. Given its tremendous influence, my letter was intended to seek its help to boost professionalism among our teachers.

Unfortunately, the HKPTU’s performance in promoting professionalism has been dismal. It has not only failed to point out the lack of professionalism in the two teachers recently deregistered by the Education Bureau, but also has come out in their defense.

Actually, the lack of professionalism in each case was quite clear. In one case, a Primary 5 teacher purportedly designed dubious course materials to teach students about freedom of speech. Professional educators should know that there are limits to speech freedom. Yet the “lesson” that students would have picked up from the teaching materials is simply that speech freedom is a right protected by the Basic Law. Students would also “learn” that the SAR government has unreasonably imposed a “red line” to speech freedom. The HKPTU said that playing the 2018 speech by secessionist Andy Chan Ho-tin at the Foreign Correspondents’ Club was not intended to preach Hong Kong’s cessation from China, but only to serve as an example to illustrate the use of speech freedom. The HKPTU tried to show the political “neutrality” of the course materials with the playing of an episode in RTHK’s Hong Kong Connection program titled The Red Line That Cannot Be Touched, saying that Ronny Tong Ka-wah was interviewed presenting a different view. But in comparison, the views expressed by several student leaders who advocated Hong Kong independence and others who advocated the view that preaching secession is a right clearly dominated. The closing interview with Professor Johannes Chan Man-mun, who lamented the “narrowing” of speech freedom in Hong Kong, as well as the title of that episode, tells it all.

Education is not ideological indoctrination. Unfortunately, the HKPTU has for too long preached that the ballot box is democracy, forgetting the values of fairness, inclusiveness, and respect for other people’s rights. My wish is that the HKPTU will amend its ways. That will be a good start for our future generations.

If the teacher had been teaching speech freedom professionally, he would have told his students that there are limits to speech freedom and the reasons for this, so that students would use their speech freedom in a responsible way. What will teachers achieve by just telling students that the SAR government is limiting speech freedom, and by giving so much coverage to cessation advocacy?

Some people may say that teachers and scholars should be allowed to study sensitive subjects as part of their academic freedom. If they were to study such subjects privately, no one would raise an eyebrow. But if they openly discuss the subject, then to be true to their intellectual quest, they must also invite knowledgeable people who hold a different view to challenge their ideas. Flying a secessionist banner is obviously not academic freedom.

In the other case, a teacher was deemed to be acting unprofessionally by teaching his students that the United Kingdom launched the First Opium War against China in 1839 in order to save China’s opium addicts from opium. The HKPTU tried to excuse the teacher by saying that the teacher was not trained as a teacher for general knowledge, and criticized the government for “disproportionate punishment”. But the lack of professionalism in the case is jaw-dropping. Any teacher is supposed to “do his homework” before he teaches. If he is not knowledgeable in the subject, the harder he should work to get prepared. In this particular case, the background of the First Opium War is not at all difficult to find. All that he needed to do is to search on the internet. Instead of preparing for his classes conscientiously, he went on to invent his stories and “teach” them as facts.

I am totally dumbfounded that the HKPTU would make such excuses for a teacher who obviously has violated the basics of professionalism. I would even draw the conclusion that, by defending such an irresponsible teacher, the HKPTU is itself not acting professionally.

Based on observations on the HKPTU’s response, the nature of the two deregistered teachers’ errors, and the extent of teachers’ involvement in the social unrest since 2014, it appears to me that excessive concern with ideology is the single factor hampering teachers’ professionalism. Education is not ideological indoctrination. Education must be “matter of fact”, “ethically sound”, and teachers must teach responsibility. “Matter of fact” means there should be no distortion of facts. “Ethically sound” means we must respect the rights of others, and try to promote the interest of the HKSAR, that of the nation, and that of the world, and all must begin with grooming an upright character. “Teaching responsibility” means teaching students to face their shortcomings in a responsible way and to shoulder their responsibilities as citizens.

Education is not ideological indoctrination. Unfortunately, the HKPTU has for too long preached that the ballot box is democracy, forgetting the values of fairness, inclusiveness, and respect for other people’s rights. My wish is that the HKPTU will mend its ways. That will be a good start for our future generations.

The author is a senior research fellow at the Pan Sutong Shanghai-Hong Kong Economic Policy Research Institute, Lingnan University.

The views do not necessarily reflect those of China Daily.


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