Speech at the Legislative Council on Member’s Motion on National Education(2012.10.17)

Mr. President
The Government has withdrawn its guidelines on Moral and National Education curriculum a few weeks ago. Opposition groups welcome this decision, and the month-long dispute should be settled. This Motion calls for holding an official accountable for this incident. In my view, our priority should be learning our lessons and preventing its recurrence instead.

Frankly, I did not know much about contents of MNE before the row like most people. It was not until the row spread that I read the relevant materials and came to realize concerns of the opposition. In my view, the Government has no intention of “brain-washing” in MNE as alleged. Unfortunately, it has overlooked skepticism of society and also financed teaching materials that are inappropriate for local setting. When mistrust of the mass became collective panic, the subject was doomed to abort.

Therefore, the first lesson for the Government, in my view, is to reassure the people that core values of Hong Kong would not be compromised in policy initiatives. As we may recall, the community was not receptive of reunification with the Mainland when the question of 1997 was raised. It was understandably a historical bequest. The Central Government put forward “one country, two systems” as guiding policy with an assurance of keeping existing systems and life-style for 50 years. They helped remove the anxieties of Hong Kong citizens. As the Mainland modernizes and cross-border interflows increase, the anxieties are subsiding and mutual trust is improving. However, many people are still reserved and skeptical. MNE has coincidentally triggered off their alarm.

We should admit that uneasiness is not uncommon among people. Hong Kong is their home and they expect the Government to take account of their feelings in policy initiatives. If their views are ignored and their emotions are overlooked, society would be destabilized. Unless the Government faces the reality, similar disputes and conflicts would inevitably recur in future.

Another lesson to learn is political insensitivity. All along, the Government had stressed that MNE was launched following extensive consultations for prolonged period and funding was approved by LegCo. As there was no material controversy until recently, the subject should not be unreasonably withheld. The Government has missed the mark. People are known to be laggard. No matter how much preparatory work might have been done, public opinion could still turn around at the eleventh hour. In the MNE incident, the opposition won public support at the eve of launch. If the Government did realize the significance of the event at the outset, decisively withhold the launch, conduct fresh consultation and revise controversial parts, there would still be a good chance to settle on more acceptable curriculum. At least, a social row would have been avoided. Admittedly, fresh consultation would cause delays, but would it be a better choice than the Government being forced to retreat and eventually surrender?

This Motion calls for the resignation of Secretary for Education in display of accountability. Frankly, the Secretary is disappointing in his handling of the event from both public relations and political standards. However, it would be too harsh to ask him to step down. This is an unfinished job left behind by the last Administration, including the controversial contents and the timetable. As an incumbent in this Administration, he is accountable. Yet, it is unfair to hold him fully responsible for what happened.

Actually, policy secretaries would only win criticism not applause in a highly politicized society. All of them have great courage and undertaking besides competence on accepting the job and challenges. We should treat them fairly. It is reckless to call for resignation of an official without proper cause.

With this observation, I conclude my remarks.

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