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HK leaders vow to take out 'rotten apples'

By Eleanor Huang in Hong Kong | China Daily HK | Updated: 2020-10-07 21:57

HKSAR Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor speaks at a news conference in Hong Kong, Oct 6, 2020. [Photo/Xinhua]

The city's leader and the education chief said on Tuesday that the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region government is determined at all costs to weed out the "rotten apples" on campus and safeguard the teaching profession to ensure quality education for Hong Kong's budding young minds.

Such unwavering commitment was hailed by a prominent educator and parent in the city, after the Education Bureau announced on Monday that a primary school teacher was deregistered for "deliberately disseminating pro-independence messages" to his Primary Five students during life education classes. This means that he will no longer be licensed to teach in Hong Kong.

Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor on Tuesday noted the severity of the case as it was the first time ever that a teacher was deregistered for professional misconduct under the Education Ordinance.

Lam said the HKSAR government shares a common goal with many professionals in the education sector — which is to promote and develop quality education in Hong Kong.

"But if there are a very tiny fraction of teachers who are using their teaching responsibilities to convey wrong messages to promote misunderstanding about the nation, to smear the country and the Hong Kong SAR government without a basis, then that becomes a very serious matter," Lam added.

In the face of the mounting challenge, she pledged to weed out "black sheep" in the education sector because Hong Kong education can no longer be unguarded like "a chicken coop without a flap".

Lam stressed that the school's management and its sponsoring body share responsibility with the government in being the gatekeepers on this issue.

Education has been one of the key areas that Lam's administration has pledged to invest heavily in. Lam stressed that apart from providing resources, the government has a duty to protect students.

In a news briefing on Tuesday, the education authorities said the penalty is "reasonable and proportionate" when one considers the nature and gravity of the teacher's misconduct. They said that after a detailed and comprehensive probe into the incident, there is ample evidence to prove a "premediated act".

The probe found that the teacher had designed a detailed lesson plan, which spent the bulk of the time during two classes in March 2019, teaching students about Hong Kong independence and explaining the manifesto of a currently outlawed local separatist party. At one point, students were even asked to raise their hands if they supported Hong Kong independence, according to the officials.

Education Secretary Kevin Yeung Yun-hung said not only were the teaching materials "twisted and biased", but due to the complexity of such a topic, it was also not an appropriate learning material for primary school. Seeing as the teacher had "seriously harmed" pupils, the authorities are duty-bound to protect students from teachers who are not fit and proper for their roles, Yeung added.

"It's always been our position that there is no room to discuss Hong Kong independence at schools, whichever level it is," Yeung said. If students are having doubts about the topic, then teachers should help them to understand the constitutional setup of Hong Kong and why Hong Kong independence is not possible and infeasible, said Yeung.

Tang Fei, principal of Heung To Secondary School (Tseung Kwan O), said he backed the bureau's decision to deregister the teacher, because the design of the lesson plan is "highly inappropriate" and not in line with primary school students' psychological development.
"How could a 10-year-old student ever grasp such complicated political issues and make their own decision," Tang asked. "The teacher was merely brainwashing the children to accept the toxic separatism talks."

Tang said it is extremely unprofessional for teachers to ask students whether they support "independence". "How could such questions ever be asked, it is like you are asking the kids whether they support murder or taking drugs," he said.

Tsang Wing-kan, a 42-year-old customer service manager who has two primary school children, also supports the bureau's decision to strike off the unprofessional teacher. Tsang said primary teachers play an essential role in a student's development, and they are all "enlightenment figures" to children.
As the old saying goes, it takes 10 years to nurture a tree, but a hundred years to train a man, Tsang said. "A teacher must have virtuous conduct, but now they are teaching students to abandon their motherland. This is definitely unforgivable."

Sally Lai, an alumnus of the primary school, said she felt relieved that the bureau decided to deregister the concerned teacher at her alma mater.

She believed the bureau has made a professional judgement and it is baffling to her that the teacher chose to teach students about the separatist party. "Is there any education value (in that)?" she asked.

If the teacher was not penalized, the student may accept the separatist idea, which would not be a good thing for the society, Lai said.

The Hong Kong Federation of Education Workers, in a statement, threw its weight behind the decision, saying that it will protect students as well as maintain the professionalism of the teaching profession.

It is "unacceptable" for the teacher to indoctrinate separatist ideas that challenge the bottom line of China's sovereignty over Hong Kong SAR to underage kids, according to the statement.

The federation also expressed its hope that a similar incident would not occur again and stressed that any serious breach of teachers' professional conduct should not be tolerated, or else it is like "trampling over the teacher's professions".

How the former teacher promoted HK independence in class

— Spent 50 minutes in class explaining in detail the objectives and political platform of the now-banned separatist Hong Kong National Party and its calls for "Hong Kong independence", all under the pretext of discussing the Societies Ordinance.

— Asked students to make political statements in class; for example, to put their hands up if they agree with the separatist Hong Kong National Party's political platform.

— Presented biased questions in the class worksheet, such as, "Why do people propose Hong Kong independence?" Students were provided with little room to form and express their own opinions except by repeating the one-sided content of the material provided in class in order to indoctrinate students with the concepts.

— Provided twisted facts, such as claiming that "student tour groups will be regarded as unlawful societies" and that "the SAR government will invoke the Societies Ordinance to suppress a party".

— Arranged a 35-minute discussion on "The Hong Kong National Party, and the separation of Taiwan, Tibet, and Xinjiang from China"

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