Hong Kong’s biggest international school group is looking at its secondary curriculum to ensure staff “feel safe” teaching in their usual way following the imposition of the sweeping national security law, according to its chief executive.
The head of the English Schools Foundation (ESF), Belinda Greer, also said neutrality would be maintained when the law was touched on in class, and teachers would continue to encourage students to think critically.
The law, which came into effect on June 30 and carries a penalty of up to life imprisonment, targets acts of secession, subversion, terrorism, and collusion with foreign forces. The government is also required to promote national security education in schools, which have been told to remove from libraries books that may be in breach of the law.
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An Education Bureau spokeswoman did not comment on whether changes would have to be made at international schools, but said guidelines would soon be issued to schools on how they might review their curriculum and teaching under the new law.
The bureau earlier issued guidelines to all schools after the national anthem law took effect on June 12, advising them to call police if there were serious and deliberate cases of students or teachers disrespecting March of the Volunteers.
The anthem law and guidelines require teachers and students to “stand solemnly and deport themselves with dignity” while the Chinese national and Hong Kong flags are being raised and the song is being played.
In an interview with the Post, Greer said principals at ESF secondary schools had already been looking at the curriculum following the implementation of the new laws, while focusing on the continuity of pupils’ learning and “making sure that everybody is safe”.
But she did not elaborate on possible changes that could be made to the syllabus.
“ESF works within the law of the land. Yes, we are aware obviously that we have two new laws. Our focus is very much on the students’ learning,” Greer said.
“We are looking at our senior curriculum to see other areas where students themselves would be raising that, so we can support the teachers. Because we want to make sure that teachers feel safe and [are] able to work in the way that they always do.”
But, she added, “at this point in time, there has been no change of our practices, and our curriculum continues as it is”.
The new academic year began on August 10 for the ESF, which runs 22 schools from kindergarten to secondary level and charges parents between HK$77,000 and HK$175,000 per year. It has 17,770 students of 75 different nationalities.
Greer said students should continue to think critically and “have a voice” in classrooms.
“Students are encouraged to have critical thoughts and to engage and talk about life and the things that they see, and the things that they face,” she said.
“Particularly, older students need to know that there are these laws, and it will be handled in such a way that the ESF will not take or make this political in any sense.”
Asked whether the new security law could restrict academic freedom and classroom discussions, Greer said: “What we are seeing is that it is not impacting on us at this point of time. The stance and position that the ESF takes is one of neutrality.”
She added that the ESF had not seen an increased number of expat teachers leaving “at this point in time”.
A student leader at one ESF secondary school, however, said some of her peers were “very worried” that discussions on sensitive issues could be restricted on campus under the national security law. She said topics such as remembrance of the Tiananmen Square crackdown in 1989 had been touched on during some lessons, such as history.
“We are taught to question if something is right the minute someone tells us something is right. But with the national security law, maybe there will be less of that,” said the 16-year-old, who asked to remain anonymous.
But one parent with three children at secondary level said he believed sensitive discussions could still take place as long as teachers were “trained and prepared”.
“Children are like pieces of white paper, they have a lot of questions. There are certain things that have to be answered in a very certain way, in order to keep the response enough for them to understand, but not necessarily come to a judgment,” he said.
“Because this is not an age for them to come to a judgment. They should be adults and grown-up enough, and then they should decide that themselves.”
Concerns had been raised over how the national security law could affect Hong Kong’s expat community, with the head of the Australian International School’s resignation earlier this month sparking speculation over a possible link to the new legislation.
But school head Mark Hemphill was quick to dismiss the speculation, saying it was “entirely unfounded and inaccurate”, and his departure was because of family reasons.
The Post also asked 15 other international schools, including the Harrow Hong Kong, German Swiss and Canadian international schools, whether they would look into or make changes to their curriculum because of the two new laws, but none had replied by press time.
More from South China Morning Post:
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- Hong Kong schools seek review of students’ poorer-than-expected results as International Baccalaureate grading sparks dismay, global petition
- Hong Kong schoolboy, parents arrested over letter claiming home-made bombs targeting police had been planted across city
- National security law: Hong Kong schools told to remove books that might fall foul of the legislation
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