Pro-Beijing businesswoman Annie Wu Suk-ching has blasted the “out of touch” Education Bureau, accusing officials of failing to promote national pride in Hong Kong schools and the Chinese identities of its young people.
The daughter of the founder of Maxim’s – whose restaurants have been repeatedly smashed up by the city’s hard-core protesters – also hit out at the parents of young children who refused to instil patriotism in their offspring and did not bring them up “correctly”.
Wu is founder and serving member of the management committee of The Chinese Foundation Secondary School in Siu Sai Wan and a former member of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference Standing Committee, the country’s top political advisory body.
The Hong Kong government previously tried to introduce a “national education” subject into the curriculum at primary and secondary schools to nurture Chinese patriotism in 2012, but the move was seen by critics as an attempt to push propaganda from mainland China.
The government, under then chief executive Leung Chun-ying, was forced to shelve its plans following a backlash from students and parent concern groups. The campaign propelled Joshua Wong Chi-fung, the pro-democracy activist, to fame at the age of 15.
On Tuesday, in an interview with Chinese state broadcaster CGTN, the English-language branch of CCTV, Wu said more should have been done by schools to foster national identity.
“Since 1997, our Education Bureau has been very much out of touch,” she said. “They did not realise that Hong Kong is becoming an SAR [special administrative region] of China.”
Wu said the bureau should have encouraged government schools to take a more active role in teaching pupils to value their national identity, starting at primary schools and kindergartens.
Pupils should be taught to “understand Hong Kong is part of China and to appreciate they are Chinese nationals”, she said, adding they should learn more about the national anthem.
The bureau should shoulder some of the blame for many teenagers rejecting their Chinese identity and only considering themselves Hong Kong people, without “any kind of attachment to Beijing”, Wu added.
“The Education Bureau has never been interested to promote this national education,” she said.
“So for the last 20 years, the young people in Hong Kong have only been trained to say they’re born in Hong Kong.”
Some textbooks and teachers had been “anti-China”, which further hardened teenagers’ attitudes to the mainland China, Wu said.
Wu also accused parents of spoiling their children and being “very much not in tune” with the mainland, or holding any interest in understanding more about it.
Many parents did not “nurture their children correctly” as rounded citizens, she said.
“Parents of the young children now, they are in their late 30s or early 40s, they are the generation [that] have not gone through the hard times in Hong Kong, and they have not received a very accurate national education,” Wu said.
Last month in an interview with state newspaper Global Times, Wu also criticised young people for “not having any idea about what they are doing” and said she had given up hope for the city’s next two generations.
Wong Kwan-yu, chairman of the pro-Beijing Federation of Education Workers in Hong Kong, agreed the bureau could have come up with stricter requirements for teachers to foster students’ national identities.
“There is currently a discrepancy at different schools in promoting national education and national identities. Some schools have done that well, but there are also schools which have been seriously lagging behind,” said Wong.
But kindergarten principal and vice-president of the pro-democracy Professional Teachers’ Union, Elaine Kwan Shuk-ling, disagreed. She said children at kindergartens had been taught for years about Hong Kong being part of China and the importance of their Chinese identities.
The bureau had provided kindergartens with materials to promote national identities, while the government’s curriculum guidelines also clearly put “national identity” as one of the core values, she added.
So Ping-fai, former head of the Subsidised Primary Schools Council, also defended primary schools, saying they regularly promoted national education, although he agreed there was room for improvement.
“National education is sometimes a kind of sentiment … While I agree more work should be done, it would not be appropriate to ‘hard sell’ national education but rather to let kids to feel and experience themselves,” So said.
The Education Bureau said in a reply to the Post that it shared responsibility for fostering students’ values, but that the causes of young people taking part in illegal activities were complex and involved more than the education system.
It said it would “listen humbly” to stakeholders’ views as it acknowledged that many who cared about Hong Kong and had high expectations of the education sector were saddened by what had happened with the ongoing protests.
Different strategies would continue to be adopted to push forward national and values education at schools to strengthen students’ sense of national identity, it said.
Wu has previously spoken out against Hong Kong protesters, who have been raging against the government since June, initially over the now-withdrawn extradition bill.
Radical members of the movement have reacted by vandalising businesses under the banner of catering giant Maxim’s, as well as other stores with links to the mainland.