Hong Kong protests: pupils shy away from class boycotts, but thousands champion anti-government demands in schools, forming human chains and wearing masks

Gigi Choy

Students and alumni from at least 100 secondary schools formed human chains and wore masks during lessons on Friday as part of the anti-government protests gripping Hong Kong, but few boycotted classes as planned this week.

Protesting pupils said they were reluctant to skip lessons because most schools required a letter of parental consent, while some schools had strict policies deterring them from joining boycotts.

The citywide school action started on Monday at the beginning of the new academic year, with an estimated 4,000 students from secondary schools and 30,000 from universities joining rallies that day.

Some continued the action into the week by refusing to attend classes or by wearing masks and other protest accessories on school grounds.

On Friday, hundreds of students from secondary schools across the city formed human chains to call on Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor’s administration to meet all five demands of the anti-government movement, which was sparked by the extradition bill.

They said Lam’s announcement on Wednesday to withdraw the bill was “too little, too late”.

Demonstrators want an independent inquiry into what they deem to be police’s excessive use of force, an amnesty for arrested protesters, for authorities to stop characterising protests as riots and the implementation of universal suffrage.

A lot of students wore black masks to school, but skipping classes is a totally different matter to them

Form Six student surnamed Chan

“A lot of students wore black masks to school, but skipping classes is a totally different matter to them,” said a Form Six student surnamed Chan at prestigious all-boys school La Salle College in Kowloon City.

Many pupils feared disciplinary action when normality returned if they resorted to boycotts, he said.

About 70 pupils out of roughly 1,660 at La Salle College took part in a class boycott on Monday and Tuesday, according to Chan, an organiser of boycott events at the school. None of the more than 1,000 students from St Paul’s Convent School in Causeway Bay took part in class boycotts this week.

Protest crisis hammers Hong Kong’s core industries – with no end in sight

While about five St Paul’s students took part in the demonstration with alumni on Friday morning, they did not go on to boycott classes, and returned to regular school activities when the school bell rang.

Anti-government protesters and students at Chinese University on Friday. Photo: K.Y. Cheng

According to an alumnus who wished to remain anonymous, the turnout was low because the “school has been so repressive that no student dared” to take part.

The school posted on its website saying it did not support a school strike, but if a student did want to take such action, they must “submit a parent letter in accordance with the school’s rules”.

Hundreds lend support to Hong Kong school boycott

Other schools had a much higher turnout.

A 16-year-old Form Six student surnamed Ng said 100 of some 950 students skipped class at Kau Yan College in Tai Po on Monday, while the concern group of Tsung Tsin College (TTC) in Tuen Mun said 67 of around 700 pupils boycotted on the same day. But a TTC spokesperson said “only a few students” skipped class.

Alumni and students of St Paul’s Convent School in Causeway Bay support students taking part in class boycott. Photo: Rhea Mogul

A Form Five Christian Alliance College student surnamed Li, said they were looking for other ways to express themselves, since fewer than 10 pupils had skipped class each day in the past week.

“It seems like strikes aren’t that effective in our school,” he said.

An Education Bureau spokeswoman declined to disclose the number of students skipping class this week, saying it was not appropriate to describe the situation with figures.

Prince Edward MTR station closed as crowds call for CCTV footage

But she said students’ calls for boycotts and their nature varied by school, with some pupils seeking debate on social issues in school, and others asking to leave the classroom or not joining the opening ceremony for the new school year.

She added some students returned to class immediately after counselling and the length of time participants deviated from the school timetable was not consistent.

Anti-government protesters and students forming a human chain at Chinese University on Friday. Photo: K.Y. Cheng

“In general, schools can handle the situation and the operations have been smooth,” she said.

Principal Ho Hon-kuen, chairman of Education Convergence, estimated each of the 18 districts in Hong Kong had a few schools running activities that were related to the protests.

For example, he said about half of the 18 secondary schools in Northern New Territories district this week made reference on campus to the issues involved, including some teachers allowing students to share their thoughts in classes.

Mahathir: China might not tolerate further escalation of Hong Kong unrest

“No matter whether there was one student, 10 students or 100 students, it would create an impact on the school,” he said.

Teddy Tang Chun-keung, chairman of the Hong Kong Association of the Heads of Secondary Schools, said principals had to strike a balance between normal school operations, the wider needs of students, and parents’ expectations for their children’s learning.

Tang also noted some students wanted to join class boycott activities but could not secure parent approval, and the school would have to take time to smooth over any emotive issues arising from that.

Tang added schools also had to deal with external pressure, such as those from political groups and alumni.

He raised human chain activities held jointly across different schools as an example, saying educators might not have enough time to communicate with their students for a better understanding of what was happening because the activities were organised online.

Ho agreed there were safety concerns with human chains because of the potential for disputes to flare up between those holding different views.

In the last school term, 325,498 students were enrolled at 506 secondary schools in Hong Kong, while there were 95,989 full-time students at the city’s eight publicly funded universities.

Additional reporting by Rhea Mogul

More from South China Morning Post:

This article Hong Kong protests: pupils shy away from class boycotts, but thousands champion anti-government demands in schools, forming human chains and wearing masks first appeared on South China Morning Post

For the latest news from the South China Morning Post download our mobile app. Copyright 2019.