Published: 01:12, February 4, 2020 | Updated: 08:22, June 6, 2023
Teachers need to set a better example for their students
By Ho Lok-sang

Since the current social turmoil began in June, the Education Bureau had received 147 complaints about teachers that allege breaches in professional conduct. Of those complaints, 32 were found to be valid. Ten teachers were given a letter of reprimand, three were given a warning letter, and others were given reminders not to repeat the same behavior. According to Education Secretary Kevin Yeung Yun-hung, teachers could be deregistered in serious cases.

The Hong Kong Professional Teachers’ Union reacted very strongly against this, saying that “The Education Bureau openly imposed pressure on school managements by demanding they suspend teachers who have been arrested or have received complaints.” The HKPTU organized a rally in early January against “white terror”, saying that teachers who were subjects of complaints “were found guilty even before a comprehensive investigation, and the bureau claimed deregistration could be considered as consequences”. Some say expressions on social media are private and should enjoy immunity from being used as evidence against teachers.

Last year, a very senior teacher of liberal studies, Colin Lai, said in Chinese on his Facebook page, “Black police die, along with all their families.” Even though Lai eventually apologized, Leung Chun-ying, a former chief executive of the SAR, argued that he should be sacked. Dr Yu Wai-ping, who had served as honorary professional consultant to the Department of Education Administration and Policy of the Chinese University of Hong Kong, wrote in the Ming Pao newspaper that Facebook postings are subject to protection by the Privacy Ordinance and should not be used against teachers. She cited HRH the Prince of Wales v. Associated Newspapers, and Max Mosley v. News Group Newspapers, to prove the court’s endorsement of privacy rights. In the former case, a secretary in Buckingham Palace secretly copied a private diary of Prince Charles and sold it to Associated Newspapers. In the latter case, a pinhole camera hidden in a wardrobe was used to secretly film the S&M partying of Max Mosley, the then-president of the Federation Internationale de l’Automobile (International Automobile Federation), with prostitutes. The footage was sold to News Group Newspapers for 20,000 pounds (US$26,100). In each case, the court ruled that there was a violation of privacy rights.

Asking teachers not to set a bad example for students in their personal lives or risk losing their jobs is not 'white terror'. It is professionalism

However, Yu did not mention what transpired in the end. In the former case, Prince Charles won an injunction that prevented The Mail on Sunday from publishing further extracts from the diary. In the latter case, the judgment did not prevent the fate of Mosley, who stood down from his role as president at the end of his term. Although Mosley claimed that his sexual activities did not affect his role as president, a number of national governments had indicated that Mosley must not attend planned events in that role.

By the same token, if teachers are found to harbor hatred for the police or mainlanders or any ethnic group, and vent their hatred or anger “privately” in social media, they set a very bad example for students. Penalizing such teachers is not “white terror”, but professionalism. Siding with these teachers, on the other hand, is unprofessional.

What is worse is that the HKPTU organized a rally against what they call “white terror”, and thus they are telling students and the public at large that the government is in the wrong. As a matter of fact, not long after the HKPTU organized its rally at Edinburgh Square, a rally for secondary school students was held in Tai Po, and students were told that there was nothing wrong with the slogan “Black police die, along with all their families.” Students cheered the masked speaker, who eloquently argued that the slogan only cursed the “black police”, and not upright police officers, and that black police deserved to be so condemned. The fact that these rallies were targeted at secondary students is most disturbing.

It should be noted that the dismissal of an employee due to behavior that is not consistent with professionalism or requirements of the job must not be equated with the punishment handed down in a court of law. So the allegation of making a ruling ahead of a court judgment is not valid. As long as the school managers are satisfied with the evidence that a teacher has acted unprofessionally and against the interests of the school and the students, they do not need to wait for a court of law to determine if he or she is guilty or not. Not too long ago, Australia’s highest court made a landmark ruling that a public servant was lawfully sacked for writing tweets that criticized government policies. In that particular case, the sacked civil servant, Michaela Banerji, had been working for the Department of Immigration and Border Protection, and had used a pseudonym in her Twitter account to criticize Australia’s immigration policies and its overseas detention of asylum seekers. The posts were sent from a personal device and almost exclusively on her own time. She was doing nothing wrong as a citizen. Yet what she did in her private time was considered inconsistent with her role as a civil servant.

Asking teachers not to set a bad example for students in their personal lives or risk losing their jobs is not “white terror”. It is professionalism. 

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.