Education University chief Frederick Ma Si-hang has said character education should start as early as in kindergarten to teach children to show more respect to teachers, revealing his team had contacted several schools to implement a pilot project to promote gratitude and ethical development.
Ma also said there could be problems in the implementation of a liberal studies curriculum in secondary schools, but added it was not fair to blame education for every social problem.
In an interview with the Post earlier this week, Ma revealed his plan to step down as the university’s council chairman to focus on offering character education courses to young people.
On Sunday, Ma said on a radio programme he believed character education featuring respect, gratitude and empathy should be taught as early as possible in life.
“Character education should be applied in primary schools or even in kindergartens, because many things [such as a students’ views and values] are already fixed when students go to secondary schools, not to say when they enter university,” Ma said.
Ma said a lack of character education in Hong Kong was partly to blame after some university students used foul language at teachers, and even threw joss paper at Chinese University president Rocky Tuan Sung-chi during a heated exchange amid the anti-government protests in the city last year.
He said some people had been helping him contact a few schools for a pilot scheme on character education, and the project would expand gradually.
Character education generally refers to teaching that nurtures and promotes the ethical, intellectual, social and emotional development of individuals.
In 2009, the city introduced liberal studies as a core and compulsory subject to senior secondary students, aiming to strengthen critical thinking skills, expand knowledge and raise awareness of contemporary issues. It covers issues related to contemporary Hong Kong, modern China, and globalisation.
Pro-Beijing politicians blamed the curriculum for politicising young people and encouraging them to take part in the anti-government movement that erupted in June last year. Critics of the curriculum also feared that students might make biased political judgments on social controversies if they were taught by biased teachers in liberal studies.
Everyone has the right to express his or her ideas about society and politics … But teachers should not share many of their personal ideas, especially political views, with students
Frederick Ma, chairman, Education University
Ma said a top government official once asked him why some teachers seemed to harbour radical thoughts.
“I think it reflected the social problems in the city,” Ma said. “Some teachers might have been affected by the social environment and become unhappy.”
He believed that teachers must remain professional in class.
“Everyone has the right to express his or her ideas about society and politics,” he said. “But teachers should not share many of their personal ideas, especially political views, with students. It’s not right.”
But he added that he believed most teachers in Hong Kong were professional and it was not fair to blame education for all the city’s woes.
“There are many problems in society. Education is just one aspect. We cannot blame it for all the problems,” he said. “When liberal studies was first brought up as a subject, it was good. But there might have been some problems in its implementation. It needs gradual adjustment.”
Ma was reappointed as chairman of the university’s governing council until the end of the year.
He will take over as chairman of the Character Education Foundation, an NGO founded in 2016 by his daughter Christine Ma-Lau.
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