A teacher at the Alliance Primary School in Kowloon Tong was accused of disseminating pro-independence messages and consequently de-registered for ‘serious professional misconduct’, which means the teacher is banned from entering school campuses for life. The principal and vice-principal of the school were reprimanded by the Education Bureau for mismanagement, while teachers who used the same teaching materials received warning letters.
In March last year, the involved teacher designed lesson plans and worksheets for Life Education for primary five and six students to discuss freedom of speech. Students were to watch RTHK programme ‘Hong Kong Connection’ and give answers on why Hong Kong independence was advocated and what freedom of speech was on the worksheets. Half a year later in September, pro-establishment newspapers published the worksheets and smeared the teacher for advocating Hong Kong Independence. The Education Bureau received anonymous complaints from ‘parents’ and sent staff to gain an understanding of the events. In March this year, the Bureau requested the school management committee to submit an investigation report. The internal investigation report concluded that the teacher was not guilty, but the Bureau overruled the report and disciplined the teacher with extreme punishments.
In the Bureau’s press conference on 6th October, the teacher was depicted as a most vicious ‘bad apple’. The Hong Kong Professional Teachers’ Union (HKPTU) has been following the case to gain a deep understanding of the situation and holds that the Bureau’s arguments are ridiculous and the procedure was outright ‘black box’ operation. HKPTU fully supports the teacher in appealing against the decision. Summarising all the doubts and fallacies, HKPTU poses the following ten questions to the Bureau:
Question 1: What is the intention of the complaints?
The only two relevant lessons were delivered in March 2019 and no enquiries or complaints had been received. The anonymous complaint from a ‘parent’ was filed six months later in September 2019. At this point, the primary six students the lessons were delivered to had already graduated. Why did the Bureau not question the complaint about its intention – was the complaint filed out of genuine concern or political motives?
Question 2: Why was teaching motive judged solely based on lesson plans?
The teacher was only responsible for creating the lesson plans and did not deliver the lessons himself. All education professionals are aware that lesson plans serve as reference only for lesson planning only. Teachers understand the background from the lesson plans and rarely stick strictly to the lesson plans in class. The Bureau did not conduct any on-site observation and concluded their accusation solely based on the content in the lesson plans. Is that a professional investigation?
Question 3: Why are other ‘advanced’ issues deemed appropriate?
The Bureau said that the teacher overestimated students’ comprehension skills, but the students of this primary school seem to exhibit more advanced skills than their peers. Life Education teaching materials for the previous classes include topics about the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant as well as North Korea, which are not deemed inappropriate by the Bureau. Is that a double standard?
Question 4: Is the Bureau hiding the truth?
The Bureau paid a unannounced visit to the school (without saying that it’s an investigation), the officials interviewed a sample of students, who unanimously said the topic of the class was freedom of speech, the teacher did not advocate Hong Kong Independence, and that they personally did not support Hong Kong Independence. Why did the Bureau never disclose this information?
Question 5: Was procedural justice observed?
In the press conference on 6th October, the Bureau brought up some ‘accusations’ for the first time, including the Bureau’s dissatisfaction of the time planning in the lesson plans and the request for students to show their views by raising hand. Why were these accusations not mentioned in the letters issued to the teacher beforehand, so that the teacher can explain and defend himself?
Question 6: Is taking an isolated example for teaching a wrong judgement?
In the press conference, the official accused the teacher of spending 50 minutes in the lesson to account for the objectives of the Hong Kong National Party, 35 minutes to discuss topics about the division of the country such as Tibet independence and Taiwan independence. Did the Bureau gain an understanding of whether the time planning was practised in class? The Bureau regarded an isolated example as the focus of teaching. Is that a wrong judgement or is it a mere act of planting the evidence?
Question 7: This was only one lesson – how could the teacher have had a ‘premeditated plan’ to promote independence?
The official said the teacher had a ‘premeditated plan’ to promote Hong Kong independence, but video watching consisted half of the two-hour lesson. The complete video was played and students were asked to work on their worksheets afterwards. In such limited time and in one lesson, how could the teacher have had a ‘premeditated plan’ to promote independence?
Question 8: Is the Bureau misleading the public?
The official said there was no room for students to express their opinions and could only memorise and write the video content, so the teacher was imposing relevant thoughts and concepts on the students. Yet, in the video played in class, guests from both pro- and against- stances were interviewed. For example, Senior Counsel Ronny Tong Ka-wah said, ‘Freedom of speech never extends to harm national security’. Why did the Bureau not mention in the press conference that the teaching content also included these anti-independence standpoints?
Question 9: Is it an abuse of power?
The bureau said the teacher was offered two opportunities for written arguments, but the teacher requested to meet in person to clearly respond to the accusations. Why did the Bureau decline such a request? Is it not an abuse of power to decide on such extreme disciplines without a meeting?
Question 10: Do teachers’ basic human rights still matter?
After the incident, some requested the school sponsoring body, the school, and parents to disclose information of the involved teacher in spite of privacy protection regulations and rights, but the Bureau did not show any objections to such threats to the education sector. Will the Bureau protect teachers’ basic human rights?
If the Bureau fails to respond to the above questions and proceeds with disciplining the involved teacher with such extreme punishments, the Bureau admits to not fulfilling its duty, framing the involved teacher, power abuse, and threatening. HKPTU will hold the Bureau accountable.