Hong Kong Law Might Cut Church's Influence in Education

Bishop Zen Expresses Opposition in a Letter

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HONG KONG, MAY 26, 2004 (Zenit.org).- Legislation being promoted by the government of Hong Kong might drastically reduce the Catholic Church’s influence in education and reinforce state power over schools.

In response, Bishop Joseph Zen Ze-kiun has written a letter to Hong Kong’s Legislative Council, stating that it would be irresponsible to approve such a measure without first clarifying the ambiguities in the text of the amended legislation, AsiaNews reported.

The government has been debating Education Bill 2002, which would oblige all schools to form an «incorporated management committee» made of students, parents, teachers and representatives from Hong Kong society together with the School Sponsoring Body (SSB).

The committee is responsible for evaluating teachers and methods as well as the overall quality and structure of schools themselves.

According to Bishop Zen and education leaders in Hong Kong, the government measure aims to remove SSB authority and strike down its educational proposals and programs. At the same time, they say, the new legislation strengthens government control over schools.

Bishop Zen’s letter to the Legislative Council states that government authority will be increased «through decentralizing the School Sponsoring Bodies and radically altering an effective educational system that has gained international admiration.»

The legal amendments are so «revolutionary» that the bishop accuses the new legislation of going against the Basic Law, Hong Kong’s mini-Constitution which had been ratified by Beijing. According to the agreements concerning the Basic Law, Hong Kong’s basic societal structures cannot be changed for 50 years.

The Hong Kong Diocese runs about 300 elementary schools, high schools and colleges throughout the territory. Diocesan schools are considered top-rated on the island. Many of Hong Kong’s best-known cultural, political and financial leaders have all been educated at these Catholic schools. Some experts speculate that the government move is aimed at halting the Church’s influence over Hong Kong.

Hong Kong’s secretary of education, Arthur Li, said Bishop Zen’s concerns are based on «irrational anxiety» and called them «completely unfounded.»

In his letter, Bishop Zen asked that there be a five-year trial period at schools under new management before passing the law. Otherwise, he said, the Church would subject itself to the new changes only «passively.»

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