School teacher delisted by Hong Kong's EDB
Updated: Nov 22, 2020
Striking teacher off illegitimate and not compliant with procedural justice｜Benny Tai Yiu-Ting
Apple Daily 14 October 2020.
A teacher who prepared teaching materials and worksheets for a lesson in freedom of speech was accused by the Permanent Secretary for Education of “serious professional misconduct”, hence de-registered. In terms of the principle of judicial review, most probably the decision is illegitimate and does not comply with procedural justice.
The ground for the decision made by the Education Bureau is that the teacher did not only mention Hong Kong independence in class, but also spread the messages of Hong Kong independence in a planned way, which is deemed seriously propagating Hong Kong independence and so a severe breach of professional conduct. Any executive decision should be founded on substantial facts or else it is illegitimate. To this end, the crucial question is: Based on what facts did the Permanent Secretary infer that the teacher propagated Hong Kong independence in a planned way?
Indicting a teacher for propagating Hong Kong independence is a grave accusation. In accordance with the criterion made by the Court of Final Appeal in A Solicitor v. The Law Society of Hong Kong（FACV No. 24 of 2007), for disciplinary hearings, the more serious an accusation, the lower the possibility of someone performing such behavior, thereupon any evidence on which an inference is grounded should be unequivocal.
When a teacher compiles a lesson plan, of course he/she does it in a planned way. Yet, is there any proof that the lesson plan compiled by the accused teacher is to propagate Hong Kong independence? Now the officials from the Education Bureau simply asserted that he had planned to use 50mins to discuss the Hong Kong National Party (HKNP). According to the lesson plan, the HKNP is brought up after introducing the Societies Ordinance, then the political platform and purpose of the party is presented. The officials postulated that the teacher spending such a long time in discussing the party amounts to propagating the party’s political platform concerning Hong Kong independence. Their other evidence is that the teacher asked the students why Hong Kong independence had been proposed and also reserved 35mins in the conclusion part for continued discussion about the party, as well as touching on the issues of Tibetan independence, Xinjiang independence and Taiwan independence. The officials drew from the aforementioned the inference that Hong Kong independence is the theme of the whole lesson.
The evidence put forward is evidently not evident enough to prove that the teacher propagated Hong Kong independence in a planned way. The theme of the lesson plan is freedom of speech. When the teaching activities were being conducted, the National Security Law was not yet applicable to Hong Kong, and quite a lot of people were concerned whether the topic of Hong Kong independence could be discussed publicly in Hong Kong as well as whether freedom of speech in Hong Kong would be ruined consequently. At least ostensibly the teacher made use of the HKNP as an entry point to encourage the students to reflect upon limitation on freedom of speech.
The officials pointed out that the topic of Hong Kong independence is not suitable for primary students. Though admittedly teachers can make use of other topics to induce deliberation upon freedom of speech, the current challenge to freedom of speech is exactly the topic of Hong Kong independence. The teacher leveraged Hong Kong independence, an extraordinarily contentious topic, probably because he was keen on arousing students' learning interest with a topic close to the social reality. Thence, using Hong Kong independence as an entry point does not prove that he propagated Hong Kong independence in a planned way.
Education Bureau officials should be held accountable
The officials also indicated that according to the lesson plan, when the political platform of the HKNP is being played on video, teachers should ask the students to raise their hands if they agree with it. The officials consider that unacceptable to call on students to declare their political stands in class. However, students hinting at an answer to a question by raising their hands is not necessarily a declaration of political stands, but just standard practice for interactive learning, during which they can decide to raise their hands or change their minds afterward at their own discretion. Asking students to write on worksheets the gist of a video presentation is also common practice of topic learning. Since a seasoned teacher knows the majority of students will forget all the content shortly after they finish a worksheet, how could the teacher rely on a question in a worksheet to impose thoughts and ideas on students?
Despite imperfectness of the lesson plan, the penalty of deregistration inflicted on the teacher for the flaws in his work is not only way disproportionate, but also illegitimate.
Propagating Hong Kong independence is a grave accusation that is bound to have far-reaching ramifications for the teacher. The teacher’s character should also have been taken into consideration in their decision-making process. Though it is possible for him to submit a written statement to the Education Bureau, he is not given an opportunity to explain face-to-face, which does not protect his right to procedure, hence not compliant with procedural justice.
By and large, in terms of the entire decision making process, the Education Bureau officials exercised executive power unprofessionally, deliberately belittling teachers' professional judgements and prioritizing political considerations over professional standard. Actually, the Education Bureau officials should be held accountable.
(Benny Tai Yiu-Ting is a Hong Kong legal scholar and democracy activist.)
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See no evil, hear no evil…｜Alex Price
Apple Daily 13 October 2020.
It’s hard to decide which is more depressing about Hong Kong’s slide towards authoritarianism: the change itself or the government’s ability to be at once blind and complicit.
In last week’s column, I alluded to the scary similarities between the situation here and the dystopian novels Brave New World and 1984. Well, our officials have now taken another leaf out of Big Brother’s Guide for Totalitarian Regimes: this time banning a teacher for life for preparing teaching materials advocating Hong Kong independence.
His principal, colleagues and union all say the materials were merely intended to nurture critical thinking. However, our dear leader Carrie Lam accused the teacher of “a very serious offence” that “smeared the country,” while education officials said he had damaged the children. Other staff at the school were warned and reprimanded.
The materials in question were prepared for about 80 minutes of class time at the Alliance Primary School in Kowloon Tong. Pupils first watched an R.T.H.K. documentary that included a clip from Andy Chan Ho-tin, founder of the now-banned Hong Kong National Party, before answering questions. Here is a translation of that dangerous and subversive worksheet:
1) What is freedom of speech?
2) According to the video, what are the reasons that brought about suggestions of H.K. independence?
3) In the award-winning documentary Our Youth in Taiwan, what did the Taiwanese director say that annoyed the mainland regarding the “completeness of national soil”?
4) What will Hong Kong become like without freedom of speech?
Woooah… just reading that filled me with an uncontrollable urge to form an illegal secessionist party, win over public support, usurp the S.A.R. government and defeat the political and military might of the People’s Republic of China to lead Hong Kong into glorious independence.
Or at least that’s what officials fear will happen to students who read the heretic words. This is of course a) totally nuts and b) incredibly patronizing.
Are our students really so feeble-mined they cannot discuss the hypothetical concept of independence without succumbing to it? If so, the Education Bureau really should be worried, as such susceptibility would be the result of its failure to promote critical thinking – the very purpose of the lesson in question.
If you cannot discuss one subject academically, you start wondering what’s next on the forbidden list. Is it too risky to debate the dangers in allowing presidents indefinite terms? Is the ill-treatment of dissidents, lawyers and ethnic minorities off-limits?
The unfortunate Kowloon Tong teacher may have been guilty of clumsiness and poor choices – he reportedly asked for a show of hands on who supports independence – but there’s little to suggest he was actually condoning secession. And certainly nothing that warrants a lifetime ban.
Nonetheless, in a press release with wording akin to a People’s Daily editorial, the Education Bureau said the punishment was necessary because the teacher had “seriously harmed” pupils with his “twisted materials.”
“Seriously harmed”? Again we are forced to wonder why officials think Hong Kong’s kids are so intellectually fragile – I suspect you’ll find they generally recover from the trauma of hypothetical discussions by lunchtime.
Our officials are either blind to the absurdity of their explanations and/or complicit in the real reason. Which is of course another standard from the totalitarian textbooks. Want to make sure people keep their mouths shut and do as they’re told? Scare the crap out of them.
That’s why Carrie Lam was so explicit, saying: “I have to emphasize again that deregistering a teacher is a very serious penalty” that had previously only been used for criminal and sexual offences.
A thinly-veiled warning to teachers if ever there was ... and totally unnecessary.
Hong Kong is part of China, end of story. And hypothetical discussions – or even half-baked pro-independence political parties – simply will not change that fact.
So why all the fuss over one little teacher? I suspect it’s down to another standard-issue trait of despots and dictators: paranoia. You’re obsessed with maintaining control. If you let one person even think about straying from your diktats, the place will be quickly overrun with subversives ranting about democracy and free speech. So it’s best to clamp down hard and early.
I’m not really saying anything stunningly original here – it should all be pretty obvious. But it isn’t to our leaders. The rest of the world opened its eyes to the pro-democracy and anti-extradition protests. Prime ministers and presidents – even the United Nations – have voiced concern at the deteriorating rights situation in Hong Kong.
But our officials' eyes remain tight shut. They cannot see how removing pro-democracy books from libraries, raiding newspapers and arresting teenagers for burning flags sends a chill through society.
Even the instinctive psychology of self-esteem and leadership is lost on Lam and her colleagues. The more self-assured a government is, the less it worries about what other people say – or think. If you’re comfortable that your policies stand up to rational scrutiny there’s no harm in opening them to debate. Criticism is to be welcomed.
Everyone knows insecure and authoritarian leaders blame their problems on biased media and outside interference. Last week Carrie Lam claimed the education system has been infiltrated by anti-government forces. She also took aim at the press, saying that education is being harmed by “the media’s negative reporting on the country, the wrong formulation of history and the smearing of the government.”
“The wrong formulation of history”? This is the language of proto-authoritarianism. So please Mrs Lam, open your eyes and ears before it is too late.
Stop putting up with political censorship in schools｜Margaret Ng Ngoi-yee
Apple Daily 12 October 2020.
A teacher at the Alliance Primary School who allegedly gave a group of primary five students an 85-minute lesson in Life Education relating to“Hong Kong independence” and was accused by the Education Bureau of “spreading messages of Hong Kong independence in a planned way” was de-registered by the bureau for “serious professional misconduct”.
Cancelling the registration of a teacher, “a name struck off” in layman’s term, means the teacher is not allowed to teach for the rest of his/her life. It is also indicated that it means a lifelong prohibition on entering any school campus. Up till now, only teachers suspected of being involved in sexual and criminal offences have been subjected to a penalty like this.
The incident is not only political censorship, but insane political censorship. How does a lesson that lasted a little more than an hour constitute “spreading messages of Hong Kong independence”? Why does a teacher who undertook just a one-time “spreading of messages of Hong Kong independence” deserve to be penalized for good, deprived of a lifetime career, restricted from enjoying freedom for the rest of life and disgraced perpetually? Does that make sense? The so-called “in a planned way” refers only to a “planned lesson” which is a far cry from “spreading in a planned way”.
Even the men in the street who unwaveringly object to Hong Kong independence would deem the punishment undue. Hong Kong citizens cannot put up with government officials abusing their power to subdue a teacher in order to pledge allegiance to the regime.
From news coverage, the teacher did not do anything to “spread messages of Hong Kong independence”. Hong Kong independence has long since become a hot topic upon enormous exaggeration and suppression of it by the government. Even "Hong Kong Connection" (RTHK TV programme) had to cover it.
Are primary five students cloistered away from the world? What’s wrong with a decent exploration of it? Though having the topic set up within the framework of “freedom of speech” is not what the officials like to see, is education conducted pursuant to what officials are fond of still education? Requesting students to put forward what they think does not mean requesting them to take sides, but a standard way to encourage discussion.
Furthermore, the pedagogy and professionalism of the teacher should not be subjected to government officials' political judgement, but review by the teachers, principal and board directors of that school. The result of a “school-based investigation” has suggested there is no misconduct committed by the teacher.
On what ground do the authorities trample on a professional judgement?
The Education Bureau “struck the name off” by allegedly drawing on Article 47(d) of the Education Ordinance that makes a list of reasons for which a teacher’s registration is cancelled, among which (d) stipulates that “if it appears to the Permanent Secretary that the teacher has behaved in any manner which, in the opinion of the Permanent Secretary, constitutes professional misconduct”.
Why does a lesson in “Hong Kong independence” (even if the teacher did teach a lesson in Hong Kong independence) constitute serious professional misconduct? I am convinced that no profession is under such a draconian provision – literally “professional misconduct” in the original text!
The article looks not only subjective but also arbitrary. Lawfulness means there should be clear reasonable rationales put forward in compliance with procedural justice. What are the convincing rationales behind cancelling the teacher’s registration and repudiating the ruling by the school-based investigation? Have the teacher and the school board been given a chance to reply to the charge? Colonial ordinances ostensibly pull the wool over the eye of the public, but they do not under the human rights law, administrative law and Basic Law.
Obviously, seeing the ordinary teacher not being able to file a lawsuit, the Education Bureau aimed for warning others by this example. That is why professional guilds have to unite behind the teacher, take the initiative to crowdfund, and show their teeth.
All of this is not done only for the teacher or all the teachers and schools, but more importantly for protecting students against the dogmatic education under political censorship.
The late academic, Luk Hung-kay, narrated in his book “Sit up to enjoy the rising clouds”( 坐看雲起時) the great contributions of the resistance of the certified masters (CM). This generation should not fail the predecessors!
(Margaret Ng Ngoi-yee is a barrister, writer and columnist in Hong Kong. She was a member of the Legislative Council of Hong Kong from 1995-1997; 1998-2012).
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Teacher appeals sacking over ‘free-speech’ discussion of Hong Kong independence
Apple Daily 13 October 2020.
A teacher who was sacked and deregistered for promoting freedom of speech in his Hong Kong classroom launched an appeal against the dismissal on Monday.
The teacher, whose name has not been revealed, was accused of promoting Hong Kong independence and banned permanently from teaching last month, by the Hong Kong Education Bureau.
The former Alliance Primary School teacher, who became the first teacher reportedly struck off for “serious professional misconduct,” filed the appeal at the Education Appeals Board Panel.
“We will not allow education to be suppressed and stripped of its original meaning,” said Fung. “Don’t pervert education.”
Fung Wai-wah, president of the pro-democracy Professional Teachers' Union, which has been supporting the teacher, accused the Education Bureau of selectively disclosing information about the firing. The investigation into the teacher was a “black-box operation”, he said.
Chaired by a lawyer, the government-appointed appeal panel comprises three educators and two members from other professions, including the law. Both parties can choose representation by a lawyer, who is entitled to cross-examine witnesses.
Meanwhile, pro-Beijing politicians spoke in favor of the teacher’s sacking. Tam Yiu-chung, a member of the National People’s Congress standing committee, said on Monday that Hong Kong independence ought not to be a subject of discussion in the city. That topic does not fall within the scope of free speech, and discussing it endangers national security, he said.
Tam’s comment contradicts a statement made by Chief Executive Carrie Lam in 2017 while running for office. “Hong Kong has freedom of speech. Students can discuss Hong Kong independence in schools,” said Lam.
She also noted that the idea of “Hong Kong independence” contradicts the principle of “one country, two systems”.
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PTU submits appeal over teacher's de-registration
RTHK 13 October 2020.
The Professional Teachers’ Union said on Monday it still has faith in an appeal process as they submitted appeal papers to the Education Bureau regarding a de-registered primary school teacher.
The government struck off the teacher, who taught at a school in Kowloon Tong, because it said he promoted independence through designing a teaching plan.
Submitting papers for and on behalf of the teacher, the union expressed the hope the Appeal Board – whose members are appointed by the Chief Executive – can handle the matter in a professional manner.
"We want them to make their judgement not according to political intention -- [although] we're also aware that...many of these decisions are actually made according to political motives behind," union president Fung Wai-wah said.
"We still hope – through this system to appeal – we can still have some room to fight for justice."
Over the past five years, the Appeal Board has upheld Education Bureau’s decisions in all six cases. The PTU, however, said this case is different compared with those cases, which it said were relatively minor.
The union said because of the high level of public concern in this case, it is not comparable to recent board rulings.
It also said the board has hearings like a court setting, during which both sides can hire legal representatives, submit evidence and call witnesses.
That, the union said, should make the process fairer, compared with how the bureau had handled the case so far. It alleged the bureau to have been operating in a black box and giving misleading public information to smear the teacher.
Over the weekend, the officials had hit back at the union, saying it shouldn't give the impression it's seeking to harbour teachers who commit misconduct.
Apple Daily 14 October 2020. Striking teacher off illegitimate and not compliant with procedural justice｜Benny Tai Yiu-Ting
Apple Daily 13 October 2020. See no evil, hear no evil…｜Alex Price
RTHK 13 October 2020. CY names and shames teachers in 'outrageous' post
Apple Daily 13 October 2020. Teacher appeals sacking over ‘free-speech’ discussion of Hong Kong independence
RTHK 13 October 2020. PTU submits appeal over teacher's de-registration
Apple Daily 12 October 2020. Stop putting up with political censorship in schools｜Margaret Ng Ngoi-yee
Apple Daily 12 October 2020. Education officials misled public to justify teacher’s delisting
RTHK 11 October 2020. Govt smearing teacher with its false claims: union
RTHK 11 October 2020. Complaints against teachers to be published online
Apple Daily 11 October 2020. Damn, why so serious? | Allan Au Ka-lun
RTHK 8 October 2020. People's Daily: 'colonial poison' in HK schools
HKFP 7 October 2020. Teacher struck off for ‘disseminating pro-independence messages’ barred from all Hong Kong campuses
RTHK 7 October 2020. Activists urge public to write against delisting
RTHK 7 October 2020. CY urges school, parents to name delisted teacher
RTHK 7 October 2020. Kevin Yeung dismisses claims of 'lax' investigation
RTHK 7 October 2020. Education body says some topics off limits for kids
RTHK 6 October 2020. Decision to ban teacher 'not based on full picture'
RTHK 6 October 2020. De-registered teacher 'imposed independence ideas'
RTHK 6 October 2020. Teacher's sacking leaves parents divided
RTHK 6 October 2020. Deregistering of teacher done after proper probe: CE
RTHK 5 October 2020. Teacher struck off for pro-independence messages
Other WTPOHK blogs on the topic of Education:
China takes aim at Hong Kong's teachers to snuff out the fire in their students, 22 November 2020, The Times (paywall)