The Education Bureau has sent a letter to the supervisors of all secondary schools in Hong Kong, reminding them to “prevent unlawful societies from infiltration into schools,” referring to the banned pro-independence Hong Kong National Party.
The letter from Secretary for Education Kevin Yeung was dated on Monday, right after the ban was officially announced by the government. It listed crimes such as managing, giving aid to, or attending meetings of an unlawful society – which may lead to jail sentences.
“To prevent people from abusing school platforms and resources to push forward Hong Kong independence advocacy and activities, we must remind schools not to rent school premises or facilities to unlawful societies or their members for any activities, and to alert students not to join unlawful societies, participate in activities and provide funding in order to avoid criminal liability,” the letter read.
The Bureau urged schools to be professional and to “protect students from being misled into joining any activities” that violate the Basic Law and Hong Kong laws.
It cited section 98(1) of the Education Regulations as saying that any instruction, education, entertainment, recreation or activity of any kind, if viewed by the Permanent Secretary for Education as “prejudicial to the welfare of the pupils or to their education generally,” shall not be permitted upon any school premises or upon the occasion of any school or classroom activity.
“If students have any incorrect and extreme thoughts, principals and teachers should guide them and point out the facts clearly; they should also notify parents about the incidents and handle them with parents,” the letter read.
The Bureau added that it hoped to work with schools to increase students’ knowledge in the Basic Law and the constitutional order to “nurture the next generation as citizens equipped with a sense of national identity, love for Hong Kong, and responsibility for society.”
Teddy Tang, acting chair of the Hong Kong Association of the Heads of Secondary Schools, said schools rarely decide whether a student’s thoughts were incorrect or extreme, since schools expected students to think independently.
Tang said on a Commercial Radio programme on Thursday that schools can only try to understand students’ thoughts from a professional standpoint and try to determine if they are supporting independence after careful consideration, or if they are only echoing other people’s ideas.
Tang said he believed most teachers would take a tolerant attitude if students concluded that they support independence after exercising critical thinking.
“We cannot intervene with personal thought too much,” he said, adding that schools can only notify parents as requested by the letter. “I don’t think we can conduct any brainwashing, so there’s not much we can do.”
Isaac Cheng, a member of pro-democracy group Demosisto, said the letter stripped autonomy from schools.
“In such a grim situation, schools and teachers should stand up, defend the free space that is left, and not serve political purposes,” he said.