Hong Kong Imposes Sweeping Pro-China Curriculum On Schools

Hong Kong’s Education Bureau said in a statement 04/02/2021, that it has ordered schools to adopt a more patriotic curriculum and advised teachers to report any breaches of the city’s national security law, the government’s biggest move yet to overhaul the education system following the protests of 2019. The measures seek to inculcate patriotism to kindergarten-age children through “story-telling, role-playing, drawing, singing, dancing and other activities.” Students as young as six will be taught to memorize offenses criminalized by the national security law, which was imposed on the city by China last year, including subversion, secession, terrorism and collusion with foreign powers. The curriculum will cover all subjects from geography to biology.

It was reported that the new curriculum may also impact Hong Kong’s approximately 52 international schools. It has subsequently been verified that this is not the case. Contrary to the initial reports in local and international media, detailed guidelines subsequently published by the HK Education Bureau (EDB) have clarified that International Schools in Hong Kong are not required to teach the detailed National Security law curriculum that applies to local schools. EDB Circular No.3. 2021 Paragraph 21 specifically states that International schools will not be required to comply with the measures outlined in “National Security: Specific Measures for Schools” (https://www.edb.gov.hk/attachment/en/sch-admin/nationalsecurity/specific-measures.pdf), which outlines the detailed curriculum directives for local schools. Instead Circular No.3 gives international schools a high degree of flexibility in how they comply with the broad principles of the legislation that will not entail whole scale changes to what and how things are taught in International Schools. This is most welcome by the international schools in Hong Kong. 

In recent years, China has made significant changes to its own mainland Private International Bilingual schools curricula. It is now compulsory you teach the national curriculum to Chinese nationals in these international private schools in the Grade 1 to Grade 9 levels,. There must be government approved textbooks used in Grades 1 to 9 as well, and all schools must be set up as not-for-profit for the primary and middle school years. To many Chinese families looking for an international style education, with good international exam outcomes, this has proved challenging with many moving their children to other countries to access English international education. I have interviewed hundreds of Heads of Schools in recent years as well as many Heads of Admissions and the student migration wave from China, and more recently Hong Kong, is very real.

Schools in Thailand, particularly, have been the direct beneficiary of this Chinese student wave. Some schools have been able to cater for this massive influx but many have just been unable to process so many Chinese students that do not have the right level of English. I recently spoke to the popular Lanna International School in Thailand which is Chiang Mai’s only premium British International School. Lanna can attest to the hundreds of applications they receive each term from new Chinese / Hong Kong families.

“The main group by far that drives our attention is Chinese and local Hong Kong families” their Head of Admissions said. “Their seat demand has almost doubled and tripled respectively in the past 2-3 years. These families are choosing Chiang Mai as a living destination for improving their quality of life. Most of Lanna’s prospective families in this group seem very keen about offering their children a high quality international education (and furthermore an international future) and seek an affordable good value priced service.”

IES (International Education Solutions) has a new service set up specifically to help some of these new students. Chinese and Hong Kong families struggle sometimes to navigate the Thailand International School Market. International School Pathway focuses on providing international students with suggestions, help and guidance with their applications for enrolment at top schools in Chiang Mai, Bangkok, Phuket and Koh Samui.

This new curriculum development in Hong Kong I feel will urge many more Hong Kong families to look at international school options outside of Hong Kong next academic year. I expect Thailand, Malaysia and Singapore to be the direct beneficiaries of some families migrating as well as the UK and Taiwan. Thousands of Hong Kong families have already looked at the UK via a pathway made available to Hong Kong holders of the British National (Overseas) passport.

The Hong Kong government attempted to introduce a patriotic education curriculum in 2012, but shelved the decision following massive protests. The latest attempt to do so will bring the financial hub further in line with the education system in mainland China, where students are, for example, required to study the teachings of President Xi Jinping. University and high school students comprised a majority of the frontline protesters in the 2019 unrest, and people under 18 represented almost a fifth of the roughly 10,000 arrests made as of last December, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.