LCQ13: Sexual orientation discrimination and bullying in schools

     Following is a question by the Hon Emily Lau and a written reply by the Secretary for Education, Mr Michael Suen, in the Legislative Council today (February 1):


     Recently, some members of the public have approached me for assistance, pointing out that some homosexual students were bullied by others in schools.  According to a survey conducted by the Boys' and Girls' Clubs Association of Hong Kong in 2009, among some 500 homosexual youngsters interviewed, over 50% indicated that they had been subject to different degrees of ostracization and bullying by their classmates, 13% had even been subject to physical violence or sexual harassment, and about 22% had contemplated suicide because of this.  The survey also found that about 90% of the students had not sought assistance from schools, as they were afraid of being discriminated by their teachers.  Meanwhile, another survey revealed that teachers of different sexual orientation similarly faced serious discrimination.  The Education Bureau has issued general guidelines on handling violence and ensuring equal opportunities in schools, yet sex minority groups consider that they are inadequate to address the discrimination and bullying faced by homosexuals in schools.  In this connection, will the Executive Authorities inform this Council:

(a) whether the Education Bureau has statistics on bullying on the basis of sexual orientation in schools; if it has, of the current situation; if not, whether it will study and assess the current situation and draw up guidelines to require schools to compile and report such statistics;

(b) of the number of training sessions provided by the Education Bureau in the past three years to assist teachers in handling cases of homosexual students seeking assistance because they were bullied by others; the number of teachers who participated in such training sessions; and the organisations and instructors offering such sessions;

(c) whether the Education Bureau will consider modelling on places such as Taiwan, the United States and the United Kingdom, etc. to formulate guidelines for schools to prevent homosexual students from being discriminated against, so as to assist schools in handling relevant cases and creating a discrimination-free campus;

(d) whether the Code of Practice against Discrimination in Employment on the Ground of Sexual Orientation compiled by the authorities is applicable to all government departments as well as universities, secondary schools and primary schools receiving government funding; whether they know, among the government-funded organisations, the number of those which have formulated guidelines and measures to eradicate discrimination on the ground of sexual orientation, so as to ensure that their staff (including teachers) will not be discriminated against in employment on the ground of sexual orientation; and

(e) given that it is stated in the Code for the Education Profession of Hong Kong that teachers "shall not discriminate against any student on the basis of race, colour, religious belief, creed, sex, family background, or any form of handicap", whether the authorities will request the organisation concerned to amend the Code to include the guideline that students should not be discriminated against on the ground of sexual orientation, so as to ensure that teachers can properly handle problems of bullying on the basis of sexual orientation in schools?



(a) Bullying in schools is a kind of unruly behaviour of students.  When handling incidents of students' unruly behaviour, schools will follow the guidelines issued by the Education Bureau (EDB), and take follow up action in accordance with their own guidance and discipline policies and procedures.  For more serious cases, schools may seek assistance from the EDB.  The EDB conducts an annual survey on guidance and discipline cases (including bullying cases) and schools will submit relevant information through an electronic reporting mechanism.  Based on the information, the EDB can get a clearer picture of the major types of unruly behaviour of students, and plan and provide more focused support services for schools to facilitate their guidance and discipline work.  Bullying in schools may take different forms and their causes are complex, involving personal factors such as the students' cognitive development, values, emotion management, problem solving abilities and social skills, as well as environmental factors relating to the students' schools and families.  As these factors interact with one another, it is difficult to attribute the cause of bullying to any single factor (e.g. sexual orientation).  Hence, we do not have statistics on this subject.

(b) In the past three years (i.e. 2008/09, 2009/10 and 2010/11 school years), the EDB organised over 40 workshops, seminars and sharing sessions relating to anti-bullying and sex education, with the participation of over 3 000 teachers.  Topics covered building empathy, handling conflicts, sex education (including gender awareness, sexual orientation, and understanding and paying attention to the concerns of homosexual students, etc.), cyber bullying, and how to launch anti-bullying campaigns in schools, etc.  We invited tertiary institutions, relevant government departments and voluntary agencies/organisations to help organise these training activities.  Speakers included not only professionals from the EDB, but also university lecturers, social workers, school principals and teachers.  Furthermore, topics on understanding and handling bullying have been included in the certificate courses on guidance and discipline for primary and secondary school teachers provided by tertiary institutions commissioned by the EDB.

     Starting from the 2002/03 school year, the EDB requires all newly-appointed principals to undergo in the first two years of their principalship a designated professional development programme, which includes a topic on "Equal Opportunities and Education" delivered by the staff of the Equal Opportunities Commission.  The topic covers information about different types of discrimination to help newly-appointed principals familiarise themselves with the relevant issues and handle them properly.

     We will continue to enhance schools' understanding of students with different sexual orientation and provide relevant training for teachers to help them prevent and handle different forms of bullying.

(c) The EDB has always reminded schools that in formulating school-based policies and procedures, they should observe the principle of equal opportunities to avoid any form of discrimination.  By the same token, we will not tolerate bullying in schools in any form (including verbal, physical and cyber bullying) on any grounds (including physical build, ability, religion, race and sexual orientation).  The EDB has issued circulars and guidelines to schools on student discipline and anti-bullying, urging them to formulate policies and measures to prevent behavioural problems among students, such as bullying, discrimination and sexual harassment.  We have also compiled relevant resource packages to provide guidelines and advice for schools.  Such packages aim to enhance teachers' awareness about bullying and help schools draw up strategies to handle, follow up and prevent bullying through a Whole School Approach, having regard to their individual circumstances, so as to create a harmonious and inclusive school culture and ensure the safety of all the students in school.

     In addition, various key learning areas and subjects of the primary and secondary curricula, including "Personal, Social and Humanities Education", "Life and Society" and "Liberal Studies", already cover topics on sexual orientation and/or bullying in schools.  These topics include influences on the development and attitudes of sexuality, respecting different values and ways of life, relationships with the opposite sex and the same sex, strategies to tackle bullying, ways to handle conflicts and build relationships, and inquiry studies on "how to address the concerns of different communities", "human rights", etc.  Through the curricula, which cover knowledge, skills and attitudes, schools can help students understand sex-related issues and build up important concepts and values in the course of their development, including anti-discrimination, anti-bullying, respecting other people (and their different ways of life), equality (such as sexual equality) and responsibility, etc., thereby creating a harmonious school culture under which all students are equal.

     To assist schools in disseminating anti-bullying messages and to enhance students' awareness about and ability to handle bullying behaviour, the EDB has organised a series of anti-bullying activities and launched an "Anti-bullying Day/Week" event in the 2011/12 school year. Participating schools have been provided with promotion materials and a "Harmonious School - Anti-bullying Day/Week" Resource Package, which bring out the message that bullying in any form (including verbal, physical and cyber bullying) on any grounds (including physical build, ability, religion, race and sexual orientation) is unacceptable.

(d) As regards the Code of Practice against Discrimination in Employment on the Ground of Sexual Orientation (Code of Practice) issued by the Government, the Government is committed to following the best practices set out therein.  Though the Government does not have the number of government-funded organisations which have formulated guidelines and measures related to this, it encourages, through publicity and promotion, employers and employees of different sectors (including the education sector) to do their best in following the measures set out in the Code of Practice.  The Code of Practice recommends, among others, that organisations should develop consistent selection criteria in all aspects of employment and monitor regularly the implementation of the policy of equal opportunities.  

(e) The Code for the Education Profession of Hong Kong (the Code) was compiled after extensive consultation.  Consisting of a set of principle-oriented clauses, the Code cannot spell out every applicable scenario and every detail.  The part of the Code quoted in the question mainly points out that teachers should "give all students fair learning opportunities" and "show consistent justice and consideration in his/her relations with students at all times", and should not discriminate against any student on any grounds.  The grounds for discrimination stated in the Code are just some examples while others cannot be ruled out.  It is not necessary to provide an exhaustive list of all possible grounds or special circumstances in the Code.  In any case, teachers should observe the principle of the Code.

Ends/Wednesday, February 1, 2012
Issued at HKT 14:51