Hong Kong international schools in security law dilemma

How are the new security laws impacting international schools in Hong Kong? What is the English Schools Foundation doing to make sure that "everybody is safe"?

Hong Kong street scene
The curriculum of thousands of expatriate children at Hong Kong’s largest international school group is to be reviewed in the wake of the sweeping national security law imposed on the former colony by Beijing.The English Schools Foundation (ESF), which runs 22 schools from kindergarten to secondary level and caters for 17,770 students of 75 different nationalities, said the review of its secondary school curriculum was aimed at ensuring staff "felt safe" in what they were teaching classes.

What are the new security laws in Hong Kong?

Under the new law, which came into effect on June 30, penalties of life imprisonment can be imposed for acts deemed to be encouraging secession, subversion, terrorism or collusion with 'foreign forces'. The region's government is also required to promote national security education in schools, which have been told to remove books from libraries that could be in breach of the law.Additionally, an 'anthem law' was introduced earlier in June requiring teachers and students to “stand solemnly and deport themselves with dignity” while the Chinese national and Hong Kong flags were being raised and the national anthem was being played.

English Schools Foundation in Hong Kong: focus on students' learning and "making sure that everybody is safe"

Belinda Greer, the head of ESF, told the South China Morning Post that school principals were looking at the secondary curriculum in the wake of the implementation of the new laws, while focusing on the continuity of pupils’ learning and “making sure that everybody is safe”.She added that neutrality would be maintained when the security law was touched on in class and that teachers would continue to encourage students to think critically.“ESF works within the law of the land. Yes, we are aware obviously that we have two new laws. Our focus is very much on the students’ learning,” Ms Greer said.“We are looking at our senior curriculum to see other areas where students themselves would be raising that, so we can support the teachers. Because we want to make sure that teachers feel safe and [are] able to work in the way that they always do.”

ESF: no change in practices, curriculum remains as it is

But, she added, “at this point in time, there has been no change of our practices, and our curriculum continues as it is”.Ms Greer said ESF's position was one of neutrality, but she added, “Students are encouraged to have critical thoughts and to engage and talk about life and the things that they see, and the things that they face.“Particularly, older students need to know that there are these laws, and it will be handled in such a way that the ESF will not take or make this political in any sense.”The Post said it had contacted Hong Kong's Education Bureau but a spokeswoman declined to comment on whether or not changes would have to be made at international schools. However, she added guidelines would soon be issued to schools on how they might review their curriculum and teaching under the new security law.Fifteen other international schools in Hong Kong, including the Harrow Hong Kong, German, Swiss and Canadian international schools, were asked by the newspaper if they were contemplating curriculum changes because of the two new laws, but none commented.

Read more news and views from David Sapsted.

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