While Hong Kong is debating whether politics should be brought into the classroom, Macau is already providing patriotic education. The Macau government has been promoting a sense of patriotism within the local context.
To present a more vivid image of Chinese history and the nation’s achievements, the Education and Youth Affairs Bureau (DSEJ) is planning to use the National Education Exhibition Pavilion this year.
“Love the Motherland and love Macau is the core value of Macau society, and this is also one of our most important teaching goals,” said Cheong Man Fai, director of the Department of Youth.
The main purpose of using the exhibition pavilion in cooperation with schools is to promote an integrated view of Chinese history and culture to present students with knowledge beyond the textbook, to enhance their sense of national identity and to make them proud of the motherland. The exhibition pavilion was first introduced to the public on July 16 at a press conference after the plenary meeting of the Youth Affairs Committee.
On the occasion last month, Macau Daily Times interviewed two school principals to gain a better understanding of Macau’s patriotic education.
The principal of one school told the Times that it already has flag-raising ceremonies, parade exercises, mainland exchange programs and activities related to Chinese culture to give students an insight into the diversity of Chinese culture.
“I believe Macau citizens lack knowledge about Chinese history [and culture], and this is a school’s responsibility to promote Chinese culture,” said the principal, who insisted on anonymity as a condition to talk to the Times. “Regardless of any political purpose, we will welcome the concepts if they are good for students’ development.”
Vong Kuoc Ieng, the principal of Escola Choi Nong Chi Tai, also advised that patriotic education has been incorporated into different subjects, giving the example of the textbook “Moral and Civic Education.”
In an exclusive interview with the Times, Vong explained the implementation of patriotic education into the different stages of education. In kindergarten students are taught to sing the national anthem; when students enter junior high school, they start learning about the Macau Basic Law, Chinese history and traditional culture; and when they finally enter high school, students will learn to consider various aspects about the country and its relationship with other countries.
According to the DSEJ, schools are free to choose from a range of teaching materials and there exists a broad range of published teaching materials.
The DSEJ also told the Times that the government will promote the use of history teaching materials which aim to increase students’ understanding of Chinese history and culture, and to nurture students’ love of the country.
“Patriotism cannot be a hard-sell. You cannot tell students to be patriotic,” said Vong, suggesting that patriotism should be implemented in a soft way to nurture students’ sense of belonging. We can achieve that, he says, “by holding activities like exchange programs and flag-raising ceremonies to stimulate and internalize the feeling of love of the country.”
To manage different values that emerge from students, Vong said that the school will respect students’ right to express their opinions. At the same time, the school will help to try to “correct” those students’ minds. Vong estimated there are around a dozen students in high school who share similar values with Hong Kong democrats, and by having discussions and analyzing the issues at school “some of them have already been corrected and have changed their mind, while a few others choose to stand with their original values.”
When the Times asked about whether patriotic education would be a burden for students, both principals answered that it is not the case. They suggested that the government and the DSEJ appropriately balances the teaching curriculum with patriotic education, and they indicated that patriotic education has already been integrated into the general subjects.
Four students interviewed by the Times have their own opinions on the current educational situation. All of their schools have already blended elements of patriotic education into the curriculum, including subjects such as history, civic education, Chinese language, and geography. Two of them consider it important to learn more about Chinese culture, while the other two disagreed.
Students also offered their opinions on the current teaching environment. All of them considered that patriotic education is sufficient in its current form. At the same time, they believed schools could teach more politics, which is suggested to be helpful for students’ further development and to better understand what is happening in society.
Asked about the situation, lawmaker Sulu Sou questioned the use of the term “patriotic education,” which he suggested included a bias.
“The role of education is to provide students with comprehensive information; students’ own feelings and decisions shouldn’t be led by education,” said Sou. In his opinion, subjects like history and civic education should be neutral, providing students with comprehensive information in an objective and neutral way, and including both the successes and failures of history.
When questioned about the extent of patriotic education that can be considered indoctrination, Sou said that it largely depends on the comprehensiveness of the information. Sou explained that brainwashing is about providing only certain kinds of information and neglecting other information.
“Love cannot be taught, it is to be nurtured,” Sou stated. He believes that students are able to make their own judgment of whether or not to love and appreciate the country if they have received integrated information.
The National Education Exhibition Pavilion is located at the Handover Gifts Museum of Macao, and integrates exhibitions, training and multimedia to present Chinese history, art, technological development, and the country’s achievements. In the future, the exhibition pavilion will be used by education providers to offer young people and organizations a chance to engage with patriotic education.
*Intern reporter. This feature was produced in the context of an internship program in collaboration between Macau Daily Times and the University of Macau for final years students enrolled in a Communications degree. Sophia Ip