Hong Kong students arrested over anti-government protests should be treated leniently to allow for social reconciliation, the city’s biggest association of secondary school principals has urged, while also asking for school operations to be free from “external non-professional intervention”.
The Hong Kong Association of the Heads of Secondary Schools made the calls in a submission to Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor and Secretary for Education Kevin Yeung Yun-hung, ahead of Lam’s fourth policy address, expected on October 14.
The principals’ 12-point list of proposals also covered how the authorities deal with protest-related complaints against teachers, as well as the number of students admitted to Hong Kong’s universities.
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The principals asked the government to handle protest-related complaints against teachers cautiously, and to disregard anonymous complaints.
Between June last year and June this year, the Education Bureau received 222 such complaints against teachers, with initial investigations completed in 180 cases. They included 117 cases that were believed to involve wrongdoing, with follow-up action taken in 60 cases.
So far, 17 teachers have been reprimanded, nine received written warnings, and 34 were given written advice or verbal reminders.
Lin Chun-pong, acting chairman of the association, told the Post that many teachers were concerned about the bureau’s handling of anonymous complaints.
Schools were expected to deal with such complaints seriously, and to submit reports to the bureau despite not knowing who made the complaints, Lin said.
“This is one of the biggest concerns in our sector,” he said. “Such an arrangement could be unfair to the teacher, or even the school. It also encourages the trend of complaining, causing a sense of unease among educators.”
More than 10,000 people were arrested between June of last year and last month for their involvement in the city’s social unrest. They include nearly 4,000 students, mostly at the secondary and tertiary levels.
Asked what the principals meant when they urged the government to be lenient towards arrested students, the association’s honorary executive secretary, Michael Wong Wai-yu, said it was important to show the young people that society had not given up on them.
“When pupils get arrested and convicted, what happens to them afterwards? Do they still get a chance to be educated, say, after being put in prison?” he asked.
“We have to care for these pupils and their future plans. If they are just around 20 years old, they still have 50 to 60 years of living in Hong Kong. How would they view our society? How does our society respond?”
With regards to school operations, the principals asked the government to ensure autonomy for the school curriculum to be developed professionally, without being affected by the current political environment.
“It would be important if the chief executive could let teachers know their professionalism is being truly respected,” Wong said.
The association has about 400 members, comprising most of the principals of the roughly 500 secondary schools in Hong Kong.
In their submission, the principals also expressed concern about the low rate of admission to local universities, which accept only about 15,000, or some 30 per cent, of the 50,000 candidates who sit the entrance exams.
They asked the government to consider giving more students the opportunity to go to university.
Meanwhile, the city’s two biggest teachers’ unions also drew up their wish lists for city leader Lam’s policy address.
The 35,000-strong Hong Kong Federation of Education Workers asked the government for detailed guidelines and help creating teaching materials related to the city’s national security law.
The sweeping new law, which came into effect on June 30, bans in broad terms acts of secession, subversion, terrorism and collusion with foreign forces to endanger national security, and also says the government should promote national security education in schools and universities.
Some schools have already changed their syllabus to include national security education, sparking criticism from pupils and alumni.
The Education Bureau has said it was working on a detailed set of guidelines relating to the new law.
Meanwhile, the city’s biggest teachers’ union, the 100,000-strong Professional Teachers’ Union (PTU), also asked the government to ignore anonymous complaints against teachers, and called for more spending on education.
It also went on to call for an independent commission of inquiry to probe police conduct during last year’s protests, and to “find out the truth” and take constructive steps towards social reconciliation.
Both teachers’ groups also asked the government to provide teachers and students with more support for online learning, which has become necessary during the Covid-19 pandemic.
With face-to-face lessons suspended for nearly half a year, teachers and students have had to interact digitally, which has proven difficult for children from poorer families.
The PTU called for government subsidies to help these children buy tablet computers and printers.
The association of principals also touched on online learning, asking the government to provide subsidies to enable more schools to help children buy electronic devices and improve internet access for those in need.