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Wednesday, June 09, 2021, 22:57
Professional Teachers' Union must not be let off hook over social unrest
By Tony Kwok
Wednesday, June 09, 2021, 22:57 By Tony Kwok

It’s an open secret that the Hong Kong Professional Teachers’ Union and many of its member teachers played a crucial role in instigating the destructive social unrest in 2019. Some of the teachers are now facing criminal charges relating to the street riots. They will almost certainly receive condign punishment in due course. On the other hand, the students they led astray into taking part in the violent confrontations with police and various anarchist behavior are likely to receive sympathy for having been brainwashed by the teachers. The students have been told that “it is proper to break the law” to achieve their political agenda. For following their teachers’ advice, some of these students may have to serve jail sentences and be stigmatized with a criminal record that will impact their whole life. For this, the teachers should carry their abominable guilt to the grave!

With the enactment of the National Security Law for Hong Kong, many subversive organizations in Hong Kong have either disbanded or laid low. But the HKPTU remains a strong advocate as an open opposition force against the Hong Kong Special Administration Region government and a relentless critic of the central authorities as shown in the following examples.

In the aftermath of the violent social unrest and the subsequent public outcry against rogue teachers by parents, community leaders and politicians, the Education Bureau recently updated its guidelines on the schools’ complaint system providing directives on how the school should deal with complaints against teachers. Almost instantly and before there was any public feedback on the new guidelines, the HKPTU launched an all-out attack in a news conference. It claimed that the new complaint system which allows anonymous complaints was “contrary to public justice”, “an act of suppression on teachers”, “encouraging malicious complaints”, etc. It demanded the Education Bureau withdraw the directives immediately.

It claimed that the new complaint system which allows anonymous complaints was “contrary to public justice”, “an act of suppression on teachers”, “encouraging malicious complaints”, etc. ... The HKPTU claim reveals its ignorance of the guiding principle for all public complaint systems

The HKPTU claim reveals its ignorance of the guiding principle for all public complaint systems. Take for instance the complaints system in place at the Independent Commission Against Corruption. It accepts and treats all complaints equally, whether anonymous or identifiable. While it is recognized that anonymous complaints can be subject to abuse and can be motivated by malicious intentions, it is equally important to recognize the legitimate concerns of complainants, e.g., parents might be reluctant to complain openly out of fear of retaliation against their children still in school. Indeed, many of the ICAC’s major cases were successfully prosecuted as a result of anonymous complaints. The way to deal with anonymous complaints is to treat them on their merits. While there is no need to launch a full investigation for every anonymous complaint, if there are prosecutable facts or incriminating evidence contained in the complaints, or if similar allegations have been received from different sources and have a ring of truth, then it would be a dereliction of duty if they are ignored simply because they are anonymous. The proper way to deal with it is for the school authority to form a three-member complaint committee consisting of the principal and two vice-principals to evaluate the merit of the anonymous complaints in an objective way and state their reasons. This is fair to the complainants as well as the teachers in question.

The HKPTU is probably aware of such precedents but chooses to ignore them. The Education Bureau pointed out that they had in the past referred complaints from member teachers against the school authorities to the EDB but with their identities undisclosed. Despite the anonymity, the EDB had often taken up such referrals for follow-up investigations. This showed the double standards and indeed the ulterior motive of the HKPTU in making such unreasonable criticism of the EDB. Their sole intention is to protect wayward member teachers at all costs, and simultaneously mislead the public and discredit the HKSAR government.

Another example of the HKPTU’s egregious practices is its public release of an internal “survey” on member teachers, claiming that 40 percent of teachers have indicated that they would resign and leave the profession due to “political pressure”. Clearly, the survey result served two ulterior motives: firstly, to provide ammunition to the international media and foreign governments to badmouth the National Security Law — which triggered a commentary in the People’s Daily newspaper criticizing the union; and secondly, to cause public alarm in the education sector, particularly among parents. The methodology of the survey hardly meets the minimum standards of public surveys. The sample group is exceedingly small relative to the HKPTU’s total membership. The survey questionnaires were sent to all 90,000 members, but only 1,178 members bothered to reply. In other words, the 40 percent means that only 471 out of the 90,000 member teachers indicated their intention to resign. The simple explanation is that most of these 471 teachers who replied are likely subversive radical teachers who probably have worries of their own after the enactment of the National Security Law because of their roles in the social unrest. If that is the case, their resignations would serve local education better, and it should be welcomed by parents and the community.

One recent survey revealed that only 18 percent of the teaching staff have taken the COVID-19 vaccination. I suspect that the inoculation rate for members of the HKPTU is even lower. This reflects negatively on the social and professional commitments of many of our teachers. It is not a record that the HKPTU can feel proud about. 

The HKPTU has a long history of subversive behavior since the return of Hong Kong to China. It played a key and active role in blocking the national education bill in 2012. On that occasion, the union provided a transport allowance for teachers and students to participate in public protests. It also joined opposition parties in opposing the enactment of the proposed national security legislation according to Article 23 of the Basic Law and the extradition bill. During “Occupy Central” in 2014 and the social unrest in 2019, it actively engaged in the smearing of Hong Kong police, while promoting Hong Kong independence in schools. Throughout the years, it used the liberal studies subject as a cover to brainwash students and instill in them an anti-China mindset. In the interest of the city’s future generations, it is time that resolute action is taken to put an end to the HKPTU’s subversive activities once and for all.

Firstly, the HKSAR government has allocated a huge budget for education at over HK$99.6 billion (US$12.8 billion) for 2020-21, a hefty 36.7 percent increase from 2015-16. Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor had hoped to appease the HKPTU upon taking up office (in 2017) by agreeing to its demands in providing extra benefits to teachers. The generous overture did not work, and the HKPTU remained a harsh, indiscriminate critic of Beijing and the HKSAR government. It is therefore time to review the entire education budget and ensure that it does not inadvertently favor the HKPTU. Instead, more resources should be diverted to give the students a better understanding of the National Security Law and their country.

Secondly, the EDB should revise the teachers’ code of conduct and its disciplinary procedures to ensure that all cases can be speedily and effectively carried out. The results should be announced publicly, with the identities of the teachers and schools published in the public domain. Such a practice is in line with the disciplinary procedures of other professional bodies, such as the Medical Council and the Law Society. The public, in particular the parents, has every right of access to such information.

Thirdly, all teachers, irrespective of whether they are in government, subsidized or private schools, have to swear an oath of compliance with the Basic Law. In view of their status in society and for the sake of future generations, they should abide by a strict code of ethical and professional conduct. For those radical teachers who have resigned and gone overseas, the EDB should delist their teaching permit after emigration.

Lastly, all teaching staff should be required to take the COVID-19 vaccination, unless they are certified medically unfit. This is clearly in the interest of all students and parents, and in line with the prevailing practice in some Western countries.

If the HKPTU wishes to change course and opt to play a more constructive role in society, the more moderate and reasonable members should fight for leadership; otherwise, they will be dragged down with the union along with its nihilistic politics.

The author is an adjunct professor of HKU Space and a council member of the Chinese Society of Hong Kong and Macao Studies.

The views do not necessarily reflect those of China Daily. 

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