National security education in Hong Kong schools should not be aimed at making students recite laws but rather helping them nurture positive values and their Chinese identity, a legal expert told educators on Monday at the first government-run seminar for teachers on the legislation.
The talk was delivered by Simon Lee Hoey, a member of the Basic Law Promotion Steering Committee focused on the city’s mini-constitution and attended by about 1,500 teachers online and another 100 in person, according to the Education Bureau.
Participation in the closed-door seminar, titled “National security and our daily lives” and which ran for two and a half hours, was voluntary.
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It was the bureau’s first one to explain the national security law to teachers, and one of the electives under a 30-hour mandatory training scheme on professional conduct and national development being rolled out this year.
The national security law, which came into effect on June 30, targets acts of secession, subversion, terrorism and collusion with foreign forces. It also requires the government to promote national security education at schools and universities.
According to two teachers present at the seminar, Lee said national security education was not aimed at having pupils recite the entire law but rather instilling positive values and a sense of identity with China.
“In terms of national security education, when one has a strong identity towards the country, one would naturally be concerned about its safety, and thus his or her acts would naturally be in line with protecting its society and national security,” the teachers quoted Lee as saying.
Lee also said in terms of education, the deterrent effect of the law – which can carry a life sentence in the most serious cases – was not the focus, according to the teachers.
“The more ideal scenario is that when [students] understand that [national security] is good for society and is a responsibility to others, they would not commit illegal acts or activities that could damage the community,” he said.
Lee reportedly stressed that chanting slogans was still covered by freedom of speech, as the national security law had a high legal threshold on whether the slogans involved incitement.
But he added that if an act was done intentionally with the expectation that others would follow, it would likely be illegal.
Lee did not go into details about how teachers should avoid breaching the new law in the classroom.
Two teachers who attended the talk said they took little away from the seminar in terms of how teachers should change their approach.
“I think the seminar did not provide much help for teachers in terms of what can or cannot be taught in classrooms,” he said. “For instance, it lacked a focus on what teachers should pay attention to during class with the national security law in place.”
He said based on the recent two cases of teachers being permanently deregistered by the government, including a controversial case where a primary school teacher was accused of spreading pro-independence messages in a lesson plan, education officials were holding teachers to a very high standard and had strict expectations.
“When teachers are so far not given any detailed guidance, we are concerned about whether certain parts of our class or any worksheets we made would breach the red line of the Education Bureau,” he said. “There are still many grey areas [under the law].”
Another teacher said: “I had hoped to learn a bit more insights on how teachers can adjust under the law, but the seminar could not help us much in that area.”
But an attendee said he felt he “had learned more” about the concepts of the law through the seminar. He would further review student activities that touched on topics related to nurturing positive values and attitudes about national identity, the primary school principal said.
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