A secondary school has apologised following criticism from a police union leader against its liberal studies exam paper. The exam asked students to discuss the impact of a recent police rally on the rule of law.
St. Francis Xavier’s College, located in Tai Kok Tsui, was embroiled in controversy last week after sergeant Joe Chan Cho-kwong of the Junior Police Officers’ Association criticised its exam questions in an interview with pro-Beijing media outlet Speak Out HK.
Students were required to answer questions based on news excerpts on two events: the recent imprisonment of seven police officers for assaulting pro-democracy activist Ken Tsang, and an unprecedented rally attended by over 38,000 police union members and their relatives.
The news excerpt said the assembly organisers did not apply for a “letter of no objection” from police, and that some attendees held placards with messages deemed offensive to judges.
The first question asked: “How did the court decision uphold the spirit of the rule of law in Hong Kong? How did the police assembly contravene the spirit of the rule of law? Please elaborate using the materials above.”
The second question asked students to argue whether legislating against insulting police officers is feasible.
Pro-Beijing newspaper Wen Wei Po labelled the paper as “hateful towards police.”
Joe Chan said the paper “carried leading questions” and used “factually inaccurate” news materials.
The sergeant said the reference to rally-goers holding banners offensive to judges was factually inaccurate. He said there was no need to apply for a “letter of no objection” as the event was a members’ meeting held on the private property of a police club.
Chan said the incident had a “profound” implication for future generations and caused “great damage” to the education sector.
“This is not a minor incident. Teachers should ensure that discussions on public affairs are open-ended. The materials they use must be based on facts. They must not be fabricated or leading,” he said last Friday.
He said his union might ask the Education Bureau to investigate the issue.
After Chan’s comment was widely reported, St. Francis Xavier’s College issued an apology.
“The teachers intended to pick a topic on current affairs events that students are familiar with, and assess them in terms of their analytical and logical thinking skills. We did not have other motives or any political stance,” the school said in a statement
“We will continue to uphold academic freedom and remain politically neutral,” it said. “If this incident caused any misunderstanding, it was unanticipated. For this, we sincerely apologise.”
The Education Bureau told HKFP that it had contacted the school after receiving complaints.
“The liberal studies subject aims at nurturing in students positive values and attitude,” the bureau said in a statement.
“Teachers must carefully examine whether the materials used in assigning topics are based on facts, align with the purpose of the liberal studies curriculum, and allow students to respond from different perspectives.”
The high-profile attack on the school caused an uproar, with critics saying that Chan’s act amounted to bullying.
“[The incident] has a chilling effect, which will hinder the development of critical thinking skills of Hong Kong’s next generation,” secondary school teacher Simon Hung of educator-led HKEd4all told HKFP.
“The exam paper was set to induce students to reflect on our core value: the rule of law. While it is unclear if the marking scheme allowed for counter-arguments, the complaint was regrettably filed without any professional dialogue.”
It is not the first time schools have been attacked for discussing the police rally.
In March, secondary school teacher and popular blogger Edward Yau was targeted by pro-Beijing group Silent Majority after he wrote an oped critical of the rally. The group sent “reporters” to Yau’s school and demanded talks with the principal. In response to the pressure, Tang said he would no longer pen commentaries.