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Education Controversy in Hong Kong

Students take part in a protest at the campus of Hong Kong’s leading university HKU in Hong Kong on Jan. 20, 2016. (AFP PHOTO / Philippe Lopez)
Students take part in a protest at the campus of Hong Kong’s leading university HKU in Hong Kong on Jan. 20, 2016. (AFP PHOTO / Philippe Lopez)
Education Proposals Cause Debate in Hong Kong
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Proposed education changes are causing debates in Hong Kong about its own future.

Rita Fan is a member of the National People's Congress Standing Committee in Beijing. She told the state-run Xinhua news agency that Hong Kong's youth do not know enough about China's history or the central government's successes.

Fan, a former head of the city’s Legislative Council, added that Hong Kong schools teach a biased view of China and asked for a more positive view.

Her comment brought criticism from Emily Lau, a legislative council member in Hong Kong. Lau said, “Well, they [representatives] should have a more accurate grasp of what’s happening here, so when they go to Beijing they can give a more accurate picture and representation to the central government."

The comment is one in a series of proposed changes that drew criticism in Hong Kong.

Simplified characters or traditional characters?

Many people in Hong Kong write with traditional characters. In mainland China, people commonly use simplified characters, characters written in a simpler style.

Recently, Hong Kong's Education Bureau released a document that called for students “to recognize and read simplified Chinese, in order to expand students’ reading range and strengthen communication with mainland and foreign students.” ​

The debate over Chinese characters came in the same month that a riot took place in Hong Kong. Demonstrators said they were protesting against the loss of Hong Kong's traditional culture.

Hong Kong's Education Bureau has since said that it will not replace traditional characters with simplified characters.

Proposed reforms and protests

In 2012, a booklet called "The China Model" gave suggestions for how to change Hong Kong's curriculum. The booklet criticized multi-party systems. It included pictures of Chinese leaders, and said the Communist Party was "progressive, selfless and united."

The booklet caused protests in Hong Kong. Tens of thousands of people, including students, demonstrated against the booklet and its ideas.

Joseph Cheng, a democracy activist, said that was the beginning of an effort to change Hong Kong's curriculum.

“I do believe that the education sector, the primary and secondary schools, are now a very important focus of the pro-Beijing united front. They certainly have been demanding stronger patriotic programs,” Cheng said.

Sally Tang Mei-Ching is a member of Socialist Action. She said Hong Kong’s youth strongly oppose China’s growing political and cultural influence on the city.

“They teach students how to appreciate the Communist Party, but in a very biased way. So this is why a lot of young people really hate China, not China as a whole, but the Chinese regime, because we want democratic rights,” she said.

What’s next?

Joshua Wong is a pro-democracy activist who founded Scholarism. The group played a major role in the 2012 protests against education reform in Hong Kong.

This week, Wong said he plans to form a new political party. The party will call for Hong Kong to declare independence in 2047. That is when the 1997 handover agreement between China and Britain will expire.

I'm John Russell.

Shannon Van Sant reported on this story for John Russell adapted this story for Learning English. Hai Do was the editor.

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Words in This Story

call – n. a public request or statement that asks or tells people to do something

positive adj. thinking about the good qualities of someone or something

biased adj. having or showing an unfair tendency to believe that some people, ideas, etc., are better than others

curriculum – n. the courses that are taught by a school, college, etc.

characters – n. a symbol (such as a letter or number) that is used in writing or printing