'Let's learn about national security': Hong Kong rewrites school rules

Animation features an owl teaching young children about the need for the controversial law in crackdown on education

Hong Kong students as young as six will be taught about the national security law under a dramatic overhaul of the education curriculum.

Notices sent out on Thursday require schools to prevent participation in political activities, increase monitoring of employees and teaching materials, remove books and flyers deemed to endanger national security, and to report to authorities if necessary.

New teaching materials include an animated video featuring an owl teaching a young boy and girl about the establishment of the national security law (NSL) and the individual offences.

The animation – entitled Let’s Learn About National Security and accompanied by upbeat music and quirky sound effects – appears aimed at young children but uses technical and legal terms.

In one clip shared online, students learn that “for the sake of Hong Kong’s continuous development and long-term prosperity, the national security law has been enacted”, and lists out western countries that have adopted laws to safeguard national security .

“Every one of us loves Hong Kong, our home. We all hope that our families and people around us can lead happy and stable lives,” the girl says, as images of bright skies, a playground and bustling cityscapes pop up.

"Let’s Learn about National Security!" pic.twitter.com/aFuPe3mN0K

— 𝕛𝕒𝕞𝕖𝕤 𝕘𝕣𝕚𝕗𝕗𝕚𝕥𝕙𝕤 🇭🇰🏴󠁧󠁢󠁷󠁬󠁳󠁿 (@jgriffiths) February 5, 2021

The changes to the school curriculum are the latest move by the government to crack down on dissent, and increase control of the political leanings of Hongkongers beyond activists and opposition figures. Last year the city’s leader, Carrie Lam, blamed the liberal studies curriculum for fuelling the 2019 pro-democracy protests, and vowed to overhaul the education system.

A circular sent to the heads of primary and secondary schools said article 10 of the NSL required the government to “promote national security education in schools and universities”, and a three-hour supplement on national security would be added to the current 15-hour educational module on the Constitution and the Basic Law.

“The fundamentals of national security education are to develop in students a sense of belonging to the country, an affection for the Chinese people, a sense of national identity, as well as an awareness of and a sense of responsibility for safeguarding national security,” it said. “It should enable students to become good citizens who have a sense of national identity, show respect for the rule of law and abide by the law.”

The vice president of the Hong Kong Professional Teachers’ Union, Ip Kin-yuen, said the new guidelines would likely lead to anxiety and self-censorship.

“It stresses that everyone from the school administration to the teachers will be held accountable for what’s happening in schools and classrooms,” he told the Guardian.

“It’s very high stakes, people might get themselves into trouble if they say something considered to be wrong.”

He called for the government to hold a consultation period for parents and teachers.

“Modern education is meant to be aimed at developing students’ potential, to raise questions, their critical and independent thinking … My advice is the government should review the whole thing, and should involve decision makers and practitioners should uphold the principles of education.”

Another excerpt of the animation circulated online, describes the constitutional infrastructure of the NSL’s creation and its promulgation, before detailing the specific offences of secession, subversion, terrorism, and collusion with a foreign country or “external elements”.

The video also displays a map of China – including both the island of Taiwan and the nine-dash line around the disputed South China Sea – and says Hong Kong is “an inalienable part of our country”.

The government warned teachers there was “no room for debate or compromise” when it came to national security, and that they should “cultivate students’ sense of responsibility to safeguard” it. Work plans and self-compiled teaching materials must be retained for at least two years to allow for inspection by school management or the education department.


Helen Davidson in Taipei

The GuardianTramp

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