Published: 12:31, August 30, 2023 | Updated: 12:37, August 30, 2023
'Falling student population, patriotic education worth notice'
By Xi Tianqi in Hong Kong

Representatives of the Hong Kong Federation of Education Workers, (from left) Tang Fei, Lau Chi-pang, Wong Kam-leung, and Chu Kwok-keung, introduce their recommendations to the government for this year’s Policy Address at a media briefing on Aug 29, 2023. (PHOTO PROVIDED TO CHINA DAILY)

The Hong Kong Federation of Education Workers, the city’s largest teachers union, on Tuesday called for promoting local patriotic education and cross-boundary education exchanges, as well as for adopting more flexible measures to cope with a declining school-age population.

Unveiling a series of recommendations to the special administrative region government for this year’s Policy Address, federation chairman Wong Kam-leung told the media that Hong Kong’s move in this direction will be a positive response to the central government’s legislation of a draft patriotic education law, which was submitted to the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress for a first reading in June.

The proposed legislation also sets out requirements for enhancing the national identity of the people in Hong Kong, Macao and Taiwan, boosting their national pride and recognition of Chinese culture.

Wong Kam-leung, the chairman of the Hong Kong Federation of Education Workers, suggested the government provide additional subsidies for local schools to establish partnerships with the mainland schools and organize cross-boundary exchange activities. Meanwhile, the city should allocate more resources to support local patriotic education venues and bases, said Wong

Wong said he believes that Hong Kong should also enact legislation on this matter to better implement national education and patriotic education, to present a legal basis for local governments to promote students’ national identity.

To achieve this goal, the education group said it is a must to highlight Chinese traditional culture through educational campaigns and enhance exchanges between Hong Kong youngsters and their Chinese mainland counterparts.

He suggested the government provide additional subsidies for local schools to establish partnerships with the mainland schools and organize cross-boundary exchange activities. Meanwhile, the city should allocate more resources to support local patriotic education venues and bases, Wong said.

ALSO READ: Build a better nation, Xi tells HK students

He said local patriotic education can take a leaf from mainland authorities and institutions and enrich the curriculum’s form and content.

The federation also called for mechanisms to strengthen the professionalism of educators, including improving the process to address teacher misconduct.

For example, the union said, to replace the disbanded Council on Professional Conduct in Education, the government should set up an independent council composed of experts with mediation and psychological backgrounds to investigate the cases.

Less is not worse

Lawmaker Tang Fei, who is the former principal of Hong Kong’s Heung To Secondary School (Tseung Kwan O), said that the government and the city’s education sector should step up efforts to prepare for the declining student population. He cited the population projections conducted by the government in 2019, which forecast the continuing trend.

In view of the situation, the union recommended that authorities adopt flexible measures to address the insufficient student enrollment.

Such measures include introducing an adjustable quota of classes in primary and secondary schools, based on the situation of each district and a reasonable ratio of students per class. The group recommends a general standard of 23 to 27 students for each primary school class, and 26 to 33 students for a secondary school class.

The union also said that the government can expand the student source with mainland students to study in Hong Kong, especially in the proposed Northern Metropolis, which will be adjacent to the mainland.

The union also reported the growing financial pressure on kindergartens and the society’s increasing need for full-day kindergarten classes. It proposed increasing the government subsidy for full-day classes and relaxing the threshold for schools to increase tuition fees for full-day classes.

READ MORE: Record number of HK students to study on mainland

Lawmaker and Lingnan University historian professor Lau Chi-pang advised the government to expedite cooperation with Guangdong province in establishing a framework for mutual recognition of teacher qualifications.

Lawmaker and teacher Chu Kwok-keung suggested strengthening parental education and peer counseling for students, as well as increasing mental health resources to address the long-standing effects of the pandemic on the growth and well-being of adolescents, and the insufficiency of mental health services.