We live and learn in Hong Kong
Updated: Jan 19, 2020
Ordinary citizens of Hong Kong or any city should not have to live in fear. It goes against the fundamental principles of life with dignity and human rights. Yet judging from the latest news stories from the SAR it's clear that children and teachers are being threatened and terrorised. I am not referring to the sight of riot police in shopping malls carrying intimidating rifles, nor am I referring to those riot police who indiscriminately fire off volleys of tear gas, or pepper spray retreating civilians in the face for no good reason. Nor am I referring to the number of cases involving apparently innocent people being stopped or beaten, or others questioned or arrested by plainclothes police - many of whom still refuse to show their police warrant cards!
No, I refer to an item on Twitter showing a young girl in a Yuen Long playground questioned by police who had suspicions she had been involved in spray painting graffiti (21st December 2019). It's not clear whether she was arrested, or found to have cans of spray paint in her possession. I would not rule out the possibility that such an act may have been on her mind. This girl did not even try to run away. Police are known to pounce on youngsters when they least expect it. Children these days have a tough time in Hong Kong!
In a separate Twitter item a teenage girl was stopped and questioned by plainclothes police in a Tsim Sha Tsui shopping mall (19th December, 2019). When the girl started crying in response to their bullying tactics, they shouted at her "Keep acting! Best actress!". Meanwhile the gathering crowd intervened, yelling and reminding the police that “She’s just a child!”.
We seem to have moved on from the earlier fears expressed in November, 2019 that young children might suffer emotionally and lose trust in the police due to their tactics in stopping, questioning, searching and sometimes detaining children.
In Ma On Shan, on 19th December 2019 students of Chinese YMCA College were stopped at the gates of the sports ground in Ma On Shan where their annual Sport Day was being held. Why? Several van loads of police had arrived and every single students' possessions were searched for any incriminating evidence. To my knowledge there was no outcry from either school authorities, or the Education Department Bureau (EDB). If any parent actually complained, and I hope they did, it never reached 'noteworthy' as a top news item.
Some days in Hong Kong are like that. Events screaming for our attention have become humdrum, lost amidst all the other noise and conversation. Mainstream media has its own bias, so people look elsewhere for first hand accounts of events.
No teachers have been convicted of any offenses relating to protests, although some have been suspended or censured. As teachers were looking forward to taking a break from classes for Christmas celebrations, news broke about some more teachers being suspended and others coming under fire for their involvement in protests, especially for attacking the government. The range of offences varied, but some teachers drew ire for merely commenting on the pro-democracy movement in their personal Twitter account. A teachers' union did wade in to preserve teacher's rights, but are under increasing pressure from both the HK Chief Executive Carrie Lam, and EDB.
It's not the first time Hong Kong's Educators have been criticised for not towing the government line [see our blog on the politicisation of children]. Whether its the Liberal Studies subject, or teachers not being patriotic enough, the HK education system is often viewed as a threat to CCP domination. In November 2019 authorities in Beijing signalled they wanted less tolerance of protests in Hong Kong and more patriotic education favouring China.
The EDB reported before Christmas that it had received 106 complaints of teacher misconduct between June and mid-November 2019 in connection to the ongoing protests. It's not clear where these complaints came from, or who made them. The EDB has been criticised for acting against teachers before they are even given an opportunity to respond to the complaint. The EDB indicated in a media release that in serious cases it might issue a reprimand or warning notice to teachers or even go as far as deregistration, effectively ending a teacher's career. Given that some Principals may show reluctance to comply with investigations of individual teaching staff, they too were threatened by the Education Secretary on 29th December.
If authorities, including the EDB itself are allowed free reign it will also certainly impact students, limiting their personal development and potential as outlined in Article 29 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child. [see our Blog: Rights of Children, Rights for All]
Currently there are unique educational and development issues for children from poor families, minorities and refugees in HK. In mainland China, however, the push for patriotic education is stronger than ever, and there is a similar push happening in the SAR with repeated but unpopular calls for some kind of national education.
You could be forgiven for believing that the 2047 expiry date of the 1984 Sino-British Joint Declaration was already upon us. Hong Kongers are on the front line now, fighting for their own identity, their own history, language and culture against an encroaching and autocratic CCP. It has recently been found that kindergarten textbooks used in HK are already infused with pro-China, anti-democratic ideology. It's not clear how the CCP will deal with religious schools, of which there are many in HK, come 2047. Also, not fully considered here are separate issues about 1) how minority groups are faring educationally in HK, and 2) how social mobility for young people in HK is impacted negatively by disparities in school funding and the examination system that acts as an entry barrier to university study.
The protest movement is having to fight for the very rights enshrined in its founding document, since the Joint Declaration has been breached by China. It is notable that the HK Chief Executive Carrie Lam is widely considered a 'sell-out', for making too many concessions to Beijing authorities under the 'One country, two systems' model. Her time is up, but she either can't or won't resign from office. Some people lament that the old Hong Kong as they know it is gone. This political battle, the war for hearts and minds, is shaping everything we live and learn in our beloved Hong Kong.
[NEWS ALERT, 24 December 2019: At least four HK secondary schools have withdrawn from a debate competition after a pro-Beijing outcry over the discussion of protest-related topics]