Hong Kong teachers, school administrators responsible for ensuring materials ‘correct, impartial’; education minister pledges oversight

Chan Ho-him
·3-min read

Hong Kong teachers can be held accountable for problematic and biased teaching materials, while school administrators are responsible for monitoring resources and content selected by educators under new guidelines issued by authorities.

The release of the new guidelines came the day before Secretary for Education Kevin Yeung Yun-hung on Wednesday said the government would monitor teachers’ syllabuses and classroom content through regular inspections and site visits, amid calls from pro-establishment lawmakers to step up scrutiny of schools.

Yeung also revealed that of the 269 protest-related complaints received against educators between June of 2019 and December of last year, 149 were suspected or confirmed to have involved wrongdoing, and 107 teachers had already received penalty.

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Many of the complaints against teachers involved insults or inappropriate remarks made on social media or during lessons, Yeung said. Two teachers had been stripped of their lifetime registration over lesson content that was deemed problematic. One was a primary school teacher who drafted a worksheet that touched on Hong Kong independence, and the other taught pupils a factually distorted history of the first opium war between Britain and China.

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“In terms of gatekeeping for [teaching materials and content] … schools have multiple layers of existing supervision, from the level of principals and vice-principals to subject panel heads,” Yeung told lawmakers during a Legislative Council meeting.

“Officials - through regular inspections and curriculum development visits - would also look into schools’ syllabuses, as well as whether the [self-regulating] system is working.”

New guidelines released by the Education Bureau on Tuesday instructed schools to ensure that all classroom content, such as textbooks, worksheets, library books and reading materials, should be “correct, complete, objective and impartial”.

Teachers should be held accountable for the selection and adaptation of classroom resources, the guidelines read, while administrators had the responsibility to “understand and monitor” the content selected and developed by teachers to safeguard students’ well-being.

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One secondary school principal, who asked to remain anonymous, said school management would typically oversee and review the resources selected by teachers every year, but the latest guidelines might put more pressure on frontline educators given the consequences that they could now face.

“Before, if teachers made a mistake, they would be asked to correct it. But now that [more sensitive topics] such as politics and national security may be involved, teachers might be facing other, more [serious] consequences,” the principal said.

He added that schools had already been following the substance of the guidelines on their own, but with the rules “now being written in black and white … some frontline teachers might feel worried and more anxious”.

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Education authorities told schools last year to review their library collections and remove titles that might violate the Beijing-imposed national security law, which came into effect last June and forbids acts of subversion, secession, terrorism and collusion with foreign forces.

Schools also received wide-ranging guidelines on the law from the bureau last month covering teaching, school management and pupils’ behaviour, as well as a detailed framework for how to include national security education in their syllabuses.

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