As a secondary school teacher in Hong Kong, I see that the concept of human rights education (HRE) is not widely accepted as a formal focus of education in schools. But this does not mean that HRE does not exist in Hong Kong. It does. In fact, I see plenty of opportunities in the existing school curriculum to raise the pupils' awareness of human rights. I also see evidence of the concept of human rights playing an increasingly important role in everyday life in the wider community.
I teach English language at a prevocational school. As far as I can see, most of the English language teachers in Hong Kong prefer to focus on the various language skills. They pay little attention to the substantive content in the teaching materials they use, least of all the concept of human rights. This is quite understandable, and may be related to the following perceptions among English language teachers.
Nevertheless, probably without knowing it, many English language teachers have touched on human rights in the course of covering their teaching materials. I took a casual look at the textbooks used at my school and found quite a few examples of such teaching materials, including a Secondary Two text titled "Youth Talks: School Uniforms," a Secondary Three text titled "A Special Olympics" and a Secondary Five text titled "UNICEF." The substantive content of these texts is, in one way or another, related to certain people's rights. It seems to me that it would not be difficult to link these specific rights to the more general concept of human rights.
I am the chairperson of the Secondary School English Teachers Association in Hong Kong. Last year, I organized a series of seminars and visits to NGOs under the heading of "English as a World Language." One of the seminar topics was "Exploring Human Rights," and the activity included a visit to the Amnesty International (AI) offices in Hong Kong. From among the 500 or so secondary schools in Hong Kong, only 10 teachers joined the activity. My understanding was that quite a few teachers were worried that AI might be related to activities that might be deemed too politically sensitive, especially since Hong Kong has just been returned from Britain to China. Nevertheless, the teachers who did take part in the activity took advantage of the occasion to explore the concept of human rights and AI's role in it, and they all felt that the activity was a valuable one for them.
My school is for children who are identified in the Hong Kong education system as academically low achievers. As a discipline teacher in this school, I often find myself having to deal with dilemmas related to the concept of human rights. Take a very simple example. A female pupil is found to be wearing a skirt that is shorter than permitted by our school regulations. The usual practice in our schools is to make her let down the hemline immediately. However, the pupil usually feels that this is a serious infringement of her personal rights. Also, the pupil usually refuses outright to cooperate, causing more serious conflict. What I usually do is ease the situation by borrowing a spare school uniform from the school office to make the pupil feel that teachers are willing to help her comply with school regulations and are not there to catch her breaking school regulations in order to punish her.
I often find it much easier to practice HRE in extracurricular activities. As a girl-guide leader, I arrange for a number of girl guides to participate in various community service activities to help people in need, including the elderly and new immigrants from China mainland. Through such activities, they develop an awareness of the need to respect the rights of people in the community who are relatively deprived and the need to help them obtain what they are entitled to as members of the community. I feel that, through these activities, I can instill the concept of human rights without even mentioning the term.
Soon, I will be taking these girl guides through a six-year program called the "World Citizenship Scheme." The program covers a wide range of issues, including peace, culture, environment, education, health, food and nutrition, and ancient heritage. I can see plenty of opportunities to introduce the concept of human rights through activities related to these issues, again, probably without necessarily mentioning the term human rights itself.
I can see that in Hong Kong, HRE also takes place in a range of semi-governmental activities such as those organized by the Equal Opportunities Commission, the Office of the Privacy Commissioner for Personal Data, the Independent Police Complaints Council, and many others.
To conclude, let me relate a personal experience on a Hong Kong street recently. I was stopped by a volunteer raising funds for Greenpeace. I do support Greenpeace environmental protection work, and I did want very much to donate some money. However, the volunteer asked me to sign a form to transfer a fixed amount of money from my bank account every month, and he said that this was the only way to donate. I was in a kind of dilemma. Eventually, I refused to sign the form. Somehow I felt that I was exercising my right to choose as a person, even though it was not an entirely happy choice. I can see that many people in Hong Kong share this sort of personal feeling and exercise this sort of choice as well. The notion of human rights did not come up at that time. Nevertheless, I feel that it is connected to the spread of human rights awareness in Hong Kong.