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Transcript of remarks by Secretary for Education and Chairperson of Committee on Initiation of Moral and National Education Subject

     Following is the transcript of remarks by the Secretary for Education, Mr Eddie Ng Hak-kim, and the Chairperson of the Committee on the Initiation of Moral and National Education Subject, Ms Anna Wu, at a media session today (October 8):

Committee Chairperson: Firstly, I would like to thank the Chief Executive and the Chief Secretary for the immense support that they both have given to myself and the committee. They have given us a lot of space, confidence, trust and flexibility in dealing with these issues. In terms of the Chief Executive himself, and in particular, he has given us some very decisive advice and made some very decisive moves in the course of our deliberation.  These included his change to the policy on moral and national education on September 8, as well as his moves and decisions made today and just before.  At very critical junctures, the Chief Executive has in fact provided us with immense support.

     I would like to firstly say that the committee itself has indicated that national, moral and civic education are extremely important to school children and it is important that we maintain this type of interest.  On September 8, the policy that was changed by the Chief Executive, including allowing schools to have complete autonomy over whether or not the moral and national education course should be a standalone course, whether or not it should be commenced, and if so in what form.  In other words, there is a complete liberalisation over how to tackle this particular subject by the schools. They have complete liberty whether or not to start, and if so how, and this accords with the autonomy that education should has and the schools should have.  We understand that despite the change in policy, there remains doubts and unease over this particular subject and there have been requests for a withdrawal of the subject, and a withdrawal or shelving of the guidelines.  

     The Committee itself has deliberated upon these issues on September 27 and this morning in particular, and we have made a number of proposals to the Government.  These proposals have been conveyed to the Chief Executive this afternoon by myself and all these proposals have been accepted by the Government and he has given you his response earlier on.

     The proposals we have made included that under the principle of autonomy for the schools as to whether or not the schools should start the subject, and if so how. The policy in fact allows schools to take on the subject and continue with it. It can also decide not to go ahead with it. Therefore, it is a policy which enables schools, allow some to do so, but it is also a policy that should not prohibit the commencement of this particular subject. Accordingly, we believe, it would not be appropriate to withdraw the subject because under the policy of autonomy and under the policy of flexibility, these should be decided by the schools themselves. Our acceptance that it should not be withdrawn simply says no more than schools should be allowed to decide for themselves.

     In April this year, the guideline for the curriculum was issued and some of the content of this guideline became controversial. As a consequence on September 8, part of that controversial content was in fact taken away and removed temporarily with an indication that we should review the controversial portions. However, the September 8 announcement made it clear that the school should have their own autonomy in deciding on this particular subject.  Therefore, schools not having to follow the particular requirement of using a standalone course, schools not being required to establish this particular subject, schools having complete liberty and flexibility in dealing with this subject. The guidelines themselves have in fact lost its original purpose of providing compliance to schools. It is no longer a compliance document after the September 8 policy change. It no longer provides it a required reference or guidance to the schools, because we no long require a standalone subject, no longer required that to be taught.

     Therefore, the committee recommended to the Government that the guidelines should be formally shelved. Of course, it has now been accepted by the Government.  It also means that schools are no longer required to follow the guidelines.  The Education Bureau will no longer use that for school inspections and any kind of assessment.

     The Committee also proposed to the Education Bureau that since the guidelines have now been shelved, we no longer need to review or make changes to the guidelines, so this particular step we will not proceed with. If the schools have this complete freedom to deal with the subject, if they do decide to establish this particular course, I hope that we would give them the space and the opportunity and the respect to go ahead with it, because that is part of the autonomy that we are giving to schools. The schools can develop, use whatever materials they decide to be suitable.   They can take whatever materials that are available.  The Government will not provide any prescription. It will not provide any compliance guidelines or official guidelines in this particular subject. I do hope that we will with the conclusion of this particular chapter, proceed to establish better communication and better ways of building consensus on an issue that is very important, that is the development and learning environment of our children in schools today.  

     I would like to take this opportunity to thank the Education Bureau for its enormous support and I would like to thank in particular all the committee members for their hard work and beyond that the work that was done under tremendous pressure.  Thank you very much.

Secretary for Education: I will just give a very brief version in English and just highlight a few key points. I am not going into more details because which have already been covered by the Chief Executive, as well as the Chairlady Ms Anna Wu. However, I really want to deep-heartedly express the appreciation and hearted thanks to the Chairlady as well as all the members.  We have been in a month's time getting together for six times, each time so many hours, trying to discuss various aspects to follow up all major amendments announced by the Chief Executive back to September 8. I think that this is a tremendous contribution we need to recognise. I will just be focusing on what the major implementation are and the follow up to be carried out by the Education Bureau immediately.

     Firstly, the Bureau will officially and formally shelve the Moral and National Education Curriculum Guide.  Schools will not requested to adopt the Curriculum Guide and the Bureau will not use the Guide as the basis for school inspection either.  The Bureau will not further review or revise the Curriculum Guide, for the reasons and so on as mentioned by the Chairlady earlier.  Thirdly, the Bureau will not provide any mandatory or official curriculum guide in respect of the MNE subject.

     We sincerely hope, after adopting the Committee's recommendations, all of us can now build on the consensus to leave education matters to the education community, so that school sponsoring bodies and schools could concentrate on providing all-round education for their students.

Reporter: Do you consider the back down an embarrassment to the government?

Secretary for Education: We believe that as a responsible government, the key thing is not just to launch a policy but also be able to respond to various feelings and views of stakeholders, in particular the key stakeholders. We believe in this particular incident of moral and national education, as I mentioned earlier, right from the starting, it's about few years back all the way up now, actually everything has been pretty smooth until first of July and then until the sixth of July when there's another document coming out confusing the whole world, which we tried to clarify but with a pretty minimum effect. So we've been trying very hard to do that. For that reason, as a responsible government and a responsible Education Bureau, we need to listen and collect different views and that's a main purpose of the value of the committee trying to collect different views and so on. Eventually if you look at it, it's been a matter for about two months or so. There have been three rounds of responses, particularly on Sept 8, the major adjustment of the policy. We believe this is the responsible attitude and a way to manage public policy.

Reporter: (how is the subject going to work without the guidelines)

Secretary for Education: What happens is that if this is an official subject, like other Chinese, English, and Biology type of subjects which will carry examination and public credibility and public accreditation, for that matter, you have a pretty straight forward guidelines. And for other subjects, like this MNE, actually what happen is that after lots of feedbacks given to us last year, we have decided not to insert any test or examination. So it is more like a more relaxed environment facilitating the learning and accumulation of experience on this important area. And now with the shelving of the curriculum guide and the major amendment on Sept 8, we would let school sponsoring bodies and schools, based on their professional standing, make their own judgment what to do of it. They can either do it or if they don't want it, they do not need to do it. Firstly, with today's decision, they do not need to follow any particular statutory guidelines anymore. So we actually believe the students and parents will trust teachers and principals of schools, so we leave it to the schools to decide what curriculum, what guide, and how to deliver different aspects of the programme, and also how to respond to the teaching objectives and how to do the effective learning and teaching as well.

Reporter: As this subject is in general education, what lessons have you experienced?

Committee Chairperson: I can tell you in terms of the committee, we felt that it was extremely important to have this public discussion and to have this community discussion over something as significant as moral, national and civic education. It is a significant matter and I'm glad that it has been a topic of discussion. In future, I hope that we will have a new and fresh start in terms of consensus building. We need to understand this subject. We need to know what we should do with this subject. We need to know how it should be taught and how it should not be taught. These are very significant issues and I think the debate will continue. I would certainly hope that the community particularly civic society will utilise the platform that they have now established as a platform to communicate with the Education Bureau on all these significant matters rather than letting the platform lapse. And I think that it is important for parents to continue the discussion with the schools. So this is one lesson that I have taken away myself and that is increase and enhance communication, increase and enhance discussion, get into a consensus first before we start again on this particular subject.

(Please also refer to the Chinese portion of the transcript of remarks.)

Ends/Monday, October 8, 2012
Issued at HKT 22:15


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