Extended Submission to the Consultation on Moral and National Education Curriculum

First published: 31st August 2011

The Hong Kong Education Bureau, specifically the Curriculum Development Board, is preparing to strengthen National Education by introducing a new subject: Moral and National Education in all primary and secondary schools. In July 2011, they started a consultation exercise and published consultation documents. My submission in response to the consultation follows.

Allan G. Dyer

It is not easy to see how the more extreme forms of nationalism can long survive when men have seen the Earth in its true perspective as a single small globe against the stars.

Arthur C. Clarke

1 Preface

I would like to acknowledge the work done by translators at the Education Bureau and the Equal Opportunities Commission, without whom I would have been unable to address the issues raised by the full Curriculum Guide in this submission.

This is my second submission to the Consultation, made after the release of the full English version of the Curriculum Guide. That guide has raised further concerns about the intention and planning of the subject. Therefore, I have tried to enlarge my submission to encompass those concerns.

I hesitated to write my provisional submission, I was not sure of what this "Moral and National Education" subject consists, after reviewing the Curriculum Guide, I am still unsure, but some elements worry me. I have continued to read and listen to some of the discussion in the media, but, with vociferous proponents constructing straw-man arguments, it is still difficult to tell what is really in the proposals.

Secondly, I hesitated because I am British, not Chinese, so what right do I have to interfere with the teaching of Chinese identity? I recently realised that Hong Kong has been my home for the same length of time as the town of my birth, Gosport, and much longer than the other cities I've lived in, London and Sheffield. So, I am a member of "the public" just as much as any other permanent resident; furthermore, I am a "stakeholder", as I have two children in the local education system. My children are Chinese-British dual citizens, so I have a particular interest in how the proposed curriculum deals with ethnic minorities and multiple citizenship.

Thirdly, I hesitate because I do not believe that the Curriculum Development Council are a bunch of blinkered nationalistic extremists. However, I must remember that what finally gets implemented will be influenced by the Consultation, which presumably will include some of the more worrying opinions voiced in the media, such as the subject being, "Necessary Brainwashing".

2 My Concerns

2.1 Right to Education

The very first sentence of the Foreword of the Curriculum Guide says, "Cultivating students’ moral and national qualities has always been the main objective of school education", but this is incorrect. Teachers established schools and taught children before nations existed, and the Education Bureau, on its website presents a different Vision:

We provide quality school education for our students, to develop their potential to the full and to prepare them for the challenges in life.

(My italics)

Also, Article 28 of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child recognize the right of the child to education. It is significant that these are Rights of the Child, not Rights of the Nation. I would dare to suggest that the Education Bureau and the United Nations agree that the purpose of education is to develop students potential to the full and to prepare them for the challenges in life.

From this point of view, the entire Curriculum Guide is written from the wrong perspective, it is not for the Education Bureau to indoctrinate students to "love their nation", the education system exists to serve the needs of the students.

However, for a document with such a bad foundation, it covers a lot of good material. Children should learn about morality, their culture, the country's history (both the good and bad bits) and the value of society. Without that information, they would be ill prepared to meet the challenges of life. Unfortunately, the attitude of the Foreword pollutes the rest of the document, the Curriculum Guide should be re-written on the foundation of the proper purpose of education.

2.2 A Multi-Cultural City: Ethnic Minorities and Multiple Nationalities

The Summary of the Consultation papers provided no insight into how MNE would be taught to ethnic minorities and mixed nationalities, and there is a clear assumption that all children will be pure Chinese, for example, in the National domain, Primary 1 to 3, "Trace traditional Chinese customs and one's ancestral home, and foster a sense of belonging towards the country and one's ancestral home."

I mentioned in the Preface that I am British and my children are Chinese-British dual citizens, so I have a particular interest in how the Curriculum Guide addresses the meaning and challenges of having multiple nationalities and, or being an ethnic minority. Unfortunately, the Guide is silent on these issues, and there is a constant assumption that all students and their families are pure Chinese, for example:

  1. Page 16:

    For example, with respect to the national domain at Key Stage One, students are suggested to “trace traditional Chinese customs and one’s ancestral home, and foster a sense of belonging towards the country and one’s ancestral home”. This is to arouse students’ interest in learning with understanding their own ancestral home as an entry point.

  2. At National KS2, page 25:

    Trace the development of the Chinese race, understand, respect and appreciate the cultures of ethnic minorities, and foster an open attitude to promote national unity

  3. Examples of Learning Contexts in the National Domain, page 38:

    Starting from family, learn about major family relationships and family history, ancestral home, its location, the local products and culture, as well as its current development in order to develop an attachment and a sense of belonging to the ancestral home


    Study the relationship between festive customs and geographical locations, starting from one’s students’ ancestral home. For example, ingredients and flavours of moon cakes vary in different regions, reflecting features of local food cultures. Embrace the diversified Chinese culture through studying the characteristics of festive customs of different regions

  4. "Student-centred" adaptation, page 91. Even when the possibility of students having a diversity of backgrounds is explicitly considered, the possibility that the students themselves might be non-Chinese or mixed is ignored. They may be from families with divorced or geographically separated parents, or cared for by other relatives; or they may have a foreign domestic helper; or they may be new arrivals from the mainland. The authors of the document appear unaware of the numbers of non-Chinese or multi-national children in Hong Kong's schools.

  5. In section 5.4.2, Affective level assessment, page 143, Figure 21e Classification of educational goals (national domain) there is no suggestion as to how it is possible to evaluate a non-Chinese student on, for example, "feel proud of one’s Chinese identity".

Finally, in section 3.2.5 ("Dealing with differences in races and cultural backgrounds among students"), the Curriculum Guide considers the possibility of other ethnic or cultural backgrounds. Unfortunately, the treatment is superficial, students, "regardless of their ethnic or cultural backgrounds, should learn to first understand the Hong Kong society and then develop an understanding of the national situations of China". How are students to learn to understand Hong Kong society and its diverse ethnic and cultural background when this is not mentioned in the Curriculum Content of different Key Stages (Section 2.5)? Section 3.2.5 really looks like an after-thought, there to silence those who suggest ethnic minorities have not been considered. However, it would be discrimination against the Chinese majority not to teach all students about the diversity around them. All students should know that the person sitting next to them might have been born in the same hospital, speak the same language, watch the same TV programs and have right of abode in Hong Kong, but also has no right to a Chinese passport, or the many other combinations that Hong Kong's continued development engenders. The challenge for teachers is to present this as a celebration of diversity, not a catalogue of differences that leads to segregation and discrimination. The three short paragraphs of Section 3.2.5 do not make up for the lack of consideration throughout the sixty-six pages of Chapter 2.

It is difficult to find authoritative statistics for non-Chinese students in Hong Kong. A Leader on 24th August in the South China Morning Post, stated that there were "10,000-odd ethnic minority students [in] the local education system", and Education Bureau webpages (primary, secondary) list student enrolment for 2010/11 as 331,112 for primary and 449,737 for secondary, making "ethnic minority students" about 1.3% of the student population. However, the 2001 census reports that only 94.9% of the population in general are Chinese, suggesting that ethnic minorities are under-represented in school enrolment, perhaps because of an anomalous age structure of non-Chinese residents, but also perhaps because of unclear reporting. What is an ethnic minority student, in the context of the local education system? It would probably not include a child with mixed parents, one Chinese, and one not, even though the child might have a foreign passport. The possibility of significant undercounting of mixed students is high. Ethnicity is not the same as nationality.

I also know several "pure" Chinese families that have become citizens in other countries, with, in some cases, their children born abroad, who have returned to Hong Kong. They have made a commitment to a foreign country and hold foreign passports, yet their ancestors were Chinese, and they choose to continue to live and work in Hong Kong.

So the silent assumption throughout the Curriculum Guide that students and their families are "pure Chinese" is utterly wrong for at least 1.3% of the students, and rather misleading for another sector of unknown size. Acceptance of other nationalities and ethnicities is pushed into the "Global" domain, without any acknowledgement that it is required in very many classrooms. I had hoped that the full Curriculum Guide would provide a discussion about how to approach potential powder-keg questions, such as:

The Committee needs to do a lot more work on explaining how this subject should be taught in a multi-cultural city.

2.3 Another Change in Curriculum

The Secondary curriculum has undergone a lot of change recently, particularly the introduction of Liberal Studies. I am worried that the introduction of another new subject will cause an unjustifiable burden on overworked teachers and that teacher moral and the quality of education will suffer.

Looking at section 1.3 of the Summary, which compares the existing Moral and Civic Education (MCE) to the forthcoming Moral and National Education, it is difficult to understand how the subjects will differ. If they don't differ, why is there such a complicated document to explain that; if they do differ, can the differences be clearly stated?

The major difference I could identify was in the Learning Outcomes - the MCE has diversity in the outcomes according to the school, but the MNE has uniformity throughout Hong Kong. In the same section, I note a disturbing omission, "cherish their own self, as well as the people in their families, society and nation" - why isn't the rest of the world included, as it is in section 1.2 and in the list of five domains, elsewhere?

2.4 Uncertain Assessment

Looking again at section 1.3 of the Summary, the Learning Outcomes are standardised across Hong Kong, but the Assessment is non-uniform, school-based. The problem with this was pointed out by Kathy Ng Ka-ying in a letter to the South China Morning Post on 4th July 2011, I quote:

There would be no public exam. Students' performance would be assessed by teachers in terms of whether or not they were proud to be a Chinese.

This would lead to very subjective marking, especially if the teacher was pro-Beijing and a student was not. The assessment process would not be fair.

More recent articles in the South China Morning Post, (26th August 2011, "Delay on national education dismissed" and 27th August 2011, "'No guarantee' of smooth roll-out for morals classes") gave a different description of the assessment:

Under the proposal, schools would have to devote up to 50 hours of a school year, or about two lessons a week, to the new subject. No exams would be required but pupils would be expected to evaluate each other on whether they were willing to be Chinese, proud of the nation's development and prepared to respect the flag and anthem.

This peer assessment scheme is worthy of U.S. Senator Joseph McCarthy or the Cultural Revolution, creating a feedback loop of intolerance and discrimination. Pupils will naturally want to emphasise their Chineseness, to get a good evaluation, and criticism of peers who are obviously not Chinese would be easy. In this atmosphere, pupils with an unobvious foreign connection, such as a second passport, would want to keep it hidden and would tend to be among the most vocal critics so that the finger of suspicion does not point to them. McCarthyism devastated thousands of adult lives in America, who would seek to introduce a "Un-Chinese Activities Committee" into every classroom in Hong Kong?

It is therefore important to look at the forms of assessment proposed, to see whether they would lead to either of the above scenarios, or other undesirable results.

Chapter 5, Assessment, in the Curriculum Guide, section 5.3 includes:

MNE suggests schools adopt diversified assessment strategies (including formative assessment and summative assessment) such as paper-and-pen test, self-assessment, peer-assessment, teachers’ observation, etc.,


Assessment is primarily intended to promote learning rather than to assess whether or not students’ values are “correct” or compare and decide who has “better or poorer” moral and national qualities. The assessment strategies should be the ones that provide descriptive and feedback to help students get a thorough understanding of their performance in the subject (descriptive) and a clear direction for improvement (directional).

Section 5.5, Remarks includes:

Avoiding simplistic differentiation: Avoid labelling as well as differentiating students rashly into “ethical” or “unethical”, “patriotic” or “unpatriotic”, “responsible” or “irresponsible”, and so on

In the Peer Assessment Form, Appendix V, page 187:

demonstrate desirable qualities of a citizen and national citizen

The form also cautions:

They should offer objective and constructive comments to their peers in a friendly, honorable and respectful manner to facilitate learning and build up a harmonious relationship among peers.

In the Parental Assessment Form, Appendix VI, page 188:

4. has aroused his/her affirmation and sense of belonging to the country

5. has stronger sense of national identity as a Chinese

While the Curriculum Guide proposes diverse methods of assessment, it neglects the opportunity to provide guidance on assessment of non-Chinese or mixed students. The protection against possible McCarthyist witch-hunts in peer assessments is minimal.

2.5 Linking Morals and Nationality

The consultation paper starts with a quote from Mencius, "The Empire has its basis in the state, the state in the family, and the family in one's own self." While this asserts the democratic belief that the individual matters, it also raises the spectre of Imperialism. Although the Summary mentions "the different domains of family, society, nation and the world", the name focuses on the National aspect, and the opening quote suggests aggressive nationalism.

The five domains, personal, family, social, national and global form an obvious hierarchy, but is there an implication that the rules of the higher levels override the values of the lower levels? Is this "My Country, Right or Wrong"? A Learning Objective at Secondary 1 to 3 is "Uphold the good and make reasonable judgements even when caught in dilemmas of conflicting values", but an Objective at Primary 1 to 3 is "cherishing public property, obeying rules and abiding by the law". What should students learn to do when a law is wrong? Suffragettes broke the law of their time, but Women's right to vote is accepted today. Where is a Learning Objective covering the importance of questioning, protesting, challenging and changing established laws, or are established laws simply assumed to be good?

Going beyond the National, where in the Global domain is the discussion of when a country should change to comply with International laws and treaties?

2.6 Nationalism Over Globalism?

In the Social domain, "respect the emblems of Hong Kong such as the regional flag, regional emblem, Hong Kong Special Administrative Region Establishment Day" is a Learning Objective for Primary 4 to 6. In the National domain, "Cultivate national identity through understanding and respecting the emblems of the country such as the National Day, national flag, national emblem and national anthem" is a Learning Objective for Primary 1 to 3. However, I have found no Objective in the Summary under the Global domain about respecting the emblems of other countries or International organisations.

2.7 Scientific Truth Over Romanticism

Reading the National domain Learning Objectives for Primary 4 to 6, I note, "Trace the development of the Chinese race". I have heard that a view of human evolution taught in many Mainland schools, based on the opinions of Chinese anthropologists, is that the Chinese are distinct from other humans as they are descended from Peking Man, Homo erectus living near Beijing 400,000 years ago, whereas all other humans are descended from a much more recent African ancestor. An opposing, and much more generally believed view outside China, is that Homo erectus became extinct and all humans are descended from an African Homo sapiens ancestor, and migrated around the world about 50,000 years ago. The latter theory is strongly supported by modern DNA studies. I hope that the Learning Objective is not code for quietly introducing the theory prevalent in Mainland schools, in defiance of the best available scientific evidence. A good scientist changes his/her views in the light of new evidence, rejecting theories that are shown to be flawed. I am not an Anthropologist, so I cannot give a professional opinion on the validity of the opposing theories, I will just say that the view taught should be supported by the best available evidence, and, where there is uncertainty, the uncertainty should be taught.

2.8 Loving One's Country and Nationalism

Nationalists in many nations often refer to their country as the "Motherland" or "Fatherland", however, looking at their behaviour in international affairs, it is clear that nations behave more like children in an unsupervised playground. The strong ones bully the weak, and the weak ingratiate themselves to gain favours or avoid victimisation. Some patriots behave like doting parents, loving their country so much they are blind to its misdeeds. Shouldn't good citizens, instead, love their country like a responsible parent? Strong enough to tell it not to hit a peer just because they wouldn't let them play with their oilfield.

3 Conclusion

Everyone should know about their country's (or countries') history, and take pride in its achievements, but also remember less admirable parts of its history. Culture and national identity are important parts of people's character. Morality is also extremely important for a healthy, safe society. However, the Committee has not presented an argument why these disparate topics should be mixed together and intertwined into a single subject. The obvious argument why they should remain separate is that making morality subservient to Nationalism is the route to evil.

The Committee also needs to address the challenges of a multi-cultural society. It would be highly discriminatory to introduce a subject knowing that it ignores the needs of a minority. To say that any student should learn to understand Hong Kong society and then develop an understanding of the national situations of China ignores the prevelent emphasis thoughout the subject on the pupil developing their Chinese identity. What is the Chinese identity of a non-Chinese pupil? The Committee does not even acknowledge the question, let alone answer it.

Conversely, coverage of the multi-culturalism in Hong Kong society is poor, the Curriculum Guide restricts multi-culturalism to the Global domain. How can students understand Hong Kong society if the significant contributions (and damage) made by citizens of many other countries are ignored? Shouldn't students learn about the pressures that led some of their parents to leave Hong Kong, give birth, and then return?

I hope the Committee will improve its proposals, accepting that you don't always get everything right the first time.

"Mencius' mother, three moves"

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