Hong Kong Catholics Fear New Law May Destroy Education System

Diocese Plans to Stay the Course, for Now

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HONG KONG, JULY 9, 2004 (Zenit.org).- Catholics in Hong Kong fear that a newly adopted education bill will dilute the Church’s influence in the schools and undermine the entire school system.

After two days of debate, the territory’s Legislative Council (LegCo) approved the Education (Amendment) Bill 2002 by a 29-21 vote.

Pro-democracy LegCo members voted against the measure, while pro-government members, including Liberal and pro-Beijing members, voted for it.

The Catholic diocese here expressed its regrets over the adoption of the measure, saying that the bill would destroy the education system in Hong Kong, AsiaNews reported.

The diocese, which runs about 320 schools, 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 Tuesday, the eve of the debate, Hong Kong Bishop Joseph Zen Ze-kiun and some 500 Catholics held a candle vigil outside the LegCo 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.

Since the government could not satisfy the educational needs of the population, churches and religious denominations set up schools at their own initiative using their own resources to educate people.

The education programs of Protestant denominations and the Catholic Church date back to 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. In the 1850s the government started to subsidize some of these schools and impose regulations 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 Committees as a legal entity separate from the Sponsoring Bodies, or SBs, which assisted the government in providing educational services.

This was done ostensibly to bring greater transparency and democracy to school management. Currently, some management committees exist already and are responsible to Sponsoring Bodies.

Many Sponsoring Bodies, particularly Catholic, Anglican and Methodist entities, 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 Sponsoring Bodies, thus threatening Catholic education itself.

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