A former education minister admits it was a mistake to push national education.
In an interview with Cable TV on Sunday, Michael Suen Ming-yeung, who was education minister from 2007 to 2012, says he advised against the move.
Suen said that he had raised concerns over the "sensitivity" of the issue at "the senior government level" at the time, but in the end his advice was not heeded.
"There are many ways to teach national education," Suen said. "There is no need to make it an independent subject." He said critics were understandably suspicious that it would be used to "brainwash" children. "I understood it was a sensitive issue."
Asked why he did not oppose the idea, he said: "Being the [education minister] does not mean that you can take the bit in your teeth. It is not that simple."
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Shortly after Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying took office in July 2012, he tried to make national education a compulsory subject in schools, which ended in a political crisis with thousands of protesters surrounding the government office for days. Faced with such strong opposition, Leung announced the subject would not be made mandatory in October that year.
Suen also expressed regret that he had not made Chinese history a compulsory subject in schools, saying many young people were ignorant about the history of Hong Kong, and that of China in general, as a result.
Without a proper understanding of Chinese history, Suen said, many people did not understand how Hong Kong had reached its present status as a special administrative region under the "one country, two systems" principle.
Nicole Cheung, a second-year journalism student at HKU Space, said she is happy to finally see someone in authority admit that it was wrong to introduce the national education curriculum. "Shame on those who insist the subject is good for students," she said.
Commenting on Suen's suggestion to make Chinese history compulsory, Cheung's classmate Sonia Tsui doesn't think it would make much of a difference since liberal studies already teaches students about the mainland.