Hong Kong (AsiaNews) After two days of debate, Hong Kong authorities have adopted a new education bill. According to the Catholic Church, long time critic of the bill, the latter will dilute her influence in the schools and undermine the entire school system.
Although 21 pro-democracy Legislative Council (LegCo) members voted against the Education (Amendment) Bill 2002, it was still passed on July 8 with the support of the 29 pro-government members (including Liberal and pro-Beijing members). The Catholic Diocese of Hong Kong issued this evening a statement expressing its regrets about the adoption of the bill, further saying that the Bill would destroy the education system in Hong Kong.
The Diocese said that it would continue to carry out its responsibilities in the field of education until and unless it is forced out of it.
On July 6, the eve of the debate in the LegCo, Monsignor Joseph Zen Ze-kiun, Catholic Bishop of Hong Kong, and some 500 Catholics held a candle vigil outside the Council building urging its members to vote against the Bill.
At the end of the rally, they held a minute of silence as they filed past the building.
Some of the bill's critics suggested the Catholic Church close the 320 or so schools under her management should the Bill be adopted. However, church officials made the point that the Church would not give up its commitment to education until the expected negative consequences became manifest.
Cheung Man-Kwong, DP LegCo member and president of the Hong Kong Professional Teachers' Union, said in the legislature that the bill would dilute the role of the Sponsoring Bodies (SBs), which now assist the government in providing educational services.
Since the government could not satisfy the educational needs of the population, churches set up schools at their own initiative using their own resources to educate people. The education programs of the Protestant and Catholic churches go as far back as the 1840s, years before the British government set up a modern education system on the island. Later, Christian groups started working in partnership with the government in the educational field. But only in 1850s did the government start subsidizing some of these schools and imposing regulations and requirements on them.
In 2000, the Hong Kong government introduced the Education (Amendment) Bill 2002 requiring that publicly-funded schools set up their own School Management Committee (SMC) as a legal entity separate from the Sponsoring Bodies or SBs. This was done ostensibly to bring greater transparency and democracy to school management. Currently, some SMCs exist already and are responsible to SBs. Many SBs, particularly Christian SBs (Catholic, Anglican, and Methodist), have repeatedly said that existing legal practices and school policies offer sufficient guarantee for transparency and participation in school management. Many Catholic educators along with Bishop Zen believe that the purpose of the Bill is to reduce the autonomy of the SBs thus threatening Catholic education itself.