Education reform essential to curb youth radicalism

Updated: 2015-01-12 06:07

By Sonny Lo(HK Edition)

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Editor's note: This is part two of a two-part analysis on the radicalization of Hong Kong youth. This part focuses on the role education plays in the thinking and behavior of our youth and questions the relevance of our curriculum in view of the political realities in Hong Kong.

Despite the apparent rise in youth radicalism in Hong Kong in recent years, one positive thing about it is that the young political activists and the police seem to have adopted a tacit "live and let live" attitude, thereby minimizing violent confrontation.

But it is not sufficient that police are able to contain youth radicalism, and prevent it erupting into open violence as in some countries with a culture of social activism. Our young people must be encouraged to channel their youthful idealism into legitimate platforms, making good use of the ample avenues through which they can champion their ideas and ideals, including our unfettered press and highly vocal political parties. They should be persuaded that making themselves heard through the many channels at their disposal is more effective than courting attention through disruptive behavior, as happened during the recent "Occupy Central" protests. They should understand that the stridency of their campaign tactics does nothing to make their argument more persuasive. This has been proven beyond doubt by the increasing public disapproval of the "Occupy" campaigners' street tactics.

The radical activists should know by now that hijacking social order to call attention to themselves will only work to a certain extent and they still need to work within the existing legal structure to effect change. And there is nothing to prevent them from joining existing political parties which share their views, or forming their own party to advance their cause. They can then compete with others and let voters make their decision after cool-headed debates. This is something they should consider with a view to participating in the 2016 Legislative Council elections. They should not subject the public to any inconvenience just to get their attention.

But we must first and foremost examine youth radicalization from the perspective of education, because ultimately, it is the intellect that dictates their radical actions to advance their cause. Basically, the most effective way to deal with disruptive social and political youth activism is to start with the education curriculum.

Hong Kong youth fit roughly into one of three main political cultures. The first group remains politically apathetic and sees the Hong Kong government as an entity remote from the ordinary people; this group is generally not interested in liberal studies, let alone Chinese history. They tend to be more materialistic and see political participation as a futile exercise.

The second group tend to behave as spectators of political and social events with some degree of interest but not sufficient enough to get involved in political activism.

The final group is politically active, and spearheaded the recent street protests and occupation. Its political mindset is shaped by several factors:

The education system has failed to give them an in-depth grounding on the country's complex and turbulent history, particularly its phenomenal achievements in the last three decades. This is compounded by an over-emphasis on the rights of individual citizens and neglecting citizens' obligations to society and to the motherland.

Such unbalanced teaching is made worse by other unfortunate factors. They include the biased coverage of social media on the mainland; the obsession of certain political groups with Western models of democracy; the government's occasional failure to win over public support in its well-intentioned policy initiatives; and the antagonistic political culture engendered by the so-called pro-democracy politicians and media.

Therefore, de-radicalization of our youth should start with their secondary school curricula considering all the aforementioned factors. At the end of the day, without an accurate understanding of the nation, biased media and politicians with axes to grind will easily sway our youth.

Vocal and radical youth will always take center stage, although it is doubtful they speak for the majority of our young people. There is a danger that they will hijack influence over many other young people, by default simply because of the disinterest or ignorance of their fellow students. This is a pressing issue about which both the government and school authorities need to take immediate remedial action. Failing that, it opens the door to a dangerous marriage of youth radicalism and populist politics, making it virtually impossible to administer Hong Kong efficiently and peacefully.

Ignorance of the motherland's achievements and learning about the nation through social and mass media also inadvertently creates an adversarial relationship between young people and their motherland. It certainly was a major factor in the anti-national education campaign in 2012, and the subsequent "Occupy" movement between September and December 2014.

At the 15th anniversary of China's resumption of sovereignty over Macao last month, President Xi Jinping spoke in direct terms saying that Hong Kong and Macao should both strengthen the education and training of young people to understand the Basic Law and the concept of "One Country, Two Systems".

Effectively he was saying Hong Kong should consider reforming its education system in such a way that young people would develop a better sense of appreciation of their country's history, culture and economic achievements. This education reform should not be construed as an attempt at "brainwashing" young people but signals an imperative of presenting the positive aspects of the nation's historical, social and political development in a more balanced manner. Without this, the disruptive confrontations we have recently witnessed in Hong Kong will continue to everybody's detriment.

The author is professor and head in the Department of Social Sciences at the Hong Kong Institute of Education.

(HK Edition 01/12/2015 page9)