By Sally Kincaid
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Issue 396

It amazes me that the shadow secretary of state for education can take trips to South East Asia and come back having learnt the wrong lessons. Tristram Hunt visited Singapore recently and returned saying that if teachers were made to swear an oath “about continuing to learn and to pass on the love of learning” then suddenly the status of teachers would improve.

I would like to share another lesson we can learn from that region about education. The seeds of the protest which has become the current Umbrella movement in Hong Kong were sown during a successful battle two years ago over the imposition of a new school curriculum.

It echoed Michael Gove’s attempts to impose the teaching of “British values” in English schools and to introduce patriotic history, but in the Hong Kong version replace rich, white British males with the Chinese Communist Party. The 2012 campaign involved teachers, parents and pupils. Joshua Wong, one of the leaders of the current student movement, formed a youth group called Scholarism along with his classmates to fight the “patriotic education” plan. He was just 14 at the time.

Tens of thousands took to the streets during one protest. Current Chief Executive of Hong Kong, CY Leung, even announced that he had sent umbrellas and raincoats out to protesters to protect them from the Saturday night rain. During this campaign the Hong Kong government backed down and said that schools could volunteer to implement the new curriculum or not. This was not a complete victory but it was an important concession, which went against the wishes of the Beijing officials.

At the same time it gave those involved in the movement the confidence that by fighting back they could get results.

Sally Kincaid

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