The campaign against the extradition bill is spreading to the campus, with university students and secondary school pupils being urged to boycott lessons when the academic year begins next month. This is not surprising, given the sentiments that are resonating across different sectors and the political impasse is far from over. While many youngsters may have taken part in protests with their peers or parents over the past two months, there is a difference in turning schools into political battlegrounds and encouraging pupils to put their textbooks and learning aside for political causes.
The calls for class boycotts are not the first. From opposing the compulsory national education curriculum in 2012 to pressing for universal suffrage in 2014, youngsters are to be commended for their sense of awareness and love for Hong Kong. Their actions may not necessarily be approved by everyone in society, but their aspirations and ideals should be recognised.
As on previous occasions, the appeal has received support at tertiary and secondary levels. While university students are generally considered mature and independent enough to make informed choices and be held accountable for their actions, those at the lower levels are still underaged and should therefore think again whether it is appropriate for them to pursue politics at the expense of learning.
That is why the government issued documents in what it says was an attempt to help schools cope with the challenging environment. By declaring unequivocal opposition to class boycotts and reiterating professional rules for teachers and schools, the Education Bureau is trying to limit damage. The authority will check the number of teachers and students who fail to show up, assess the impact of actions but not hand out punishments, which it says are a matter for schools to handle.
The government is right in saying that schools should not be used to advance political causes. While it is perfectly legitimate for students to familiarise themselves with the extradition bill saga and make an informed judgment, efforts must be made to protect them from political manipulation. The responsibility rests squarely on the government as well as schools and teachers.
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