History will judge you, teacher tells officials killing liberal studies for the young

2021.06.11

An educator with 30 years of experience has thrown in the towel as a liberal studies teacher as he feels he cannot do anything but quit, with the government reining in liberal thinking in schools.

The authorities recently laid out guidelines for their new “Citizenship and Social Development” subject at secondary schools to replace the existing Liberal Studies course, after pro-Beijing lawmakers criticized the latter for inciting anti-government sentiment that caused social unrest in 2019.

Many people believe the new subject will be detrimental to students’ ability for critical thinking, but others think it will help them become more patriotic.

Cheung Yui-fai, for one, has had enough. After three decades of teaching, he is planning to retire eight years ahead of schedule, citing “personal and family reasons.” The executive committee member of the pro-democracy Professional Teachers’ Union could not hold back on the latest developments, criticizing the authorities for backtracking on their earlier pledge to encourage independent thinking among students.

Introduced in 2009, the Liberal Studies subject was meant to develop critical thinking skills and nurture social awareness. It was one of four mandatory subjects for senior secondary students.

The new Citizenship and Social Development subject will come with a greater focus on patriotism and national progress. Cheung said that students would be taught how to endorse the government’s take on issues. It will be rolled out in the next school year, due to begin in September. A requirement for schools to start national education for pupils as young as six will come into effect next year.

“Liberal Studies itself was a very critical step forward for the city’s education system. Now the government is ruining it with its own hands, and history will judge [the officials]. We are all going in the wrong direction,” Cheung said in an interview with Apple Daily.

He described Liberal Studies as a “scapegoat” that was being blamed for the violent protests in 2019.

“The government just did not want to examine its own problems, but instead blamed those who raised the problem, and wanted to silence the problem. But the problem will always be there,” he said.

Union vice president Tin Fong-chak said he was aware many Liberal Studies teachers had quit over worries that they could not tell the truth in the classroom.

“Maybe you still want to train students to think critically and discuss the development of social issues. But now there are not only red lines that they can’t cross. It’s basically a red sea,” he said, referring to taboos that teachers feared might draw a reprimand for mentioning in class.

Since a sweeping set of national security laws was introduced last June, the government has been arresting activists and barring pro-democracy activities. The city’s annual candlelight vigil to mark the 1989 Tiananmen Square crackdown on a student-led democratic movement was, for example, banned for the second year in the row early this month, as officials warned that calling for a democratic China ruled by multiple parties might violate the national security laws.

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