HONG KONG (Xinhua) — School principal Wong Kam-Leung spread a message of peace, hard work and loving one’s own country as he made his first-day-of-school speech.
On Monday, 800 students and teachers gathered for a national flag-raising ceremony at a spacious hall of Wong Cho Bau School in the New Territories. Flag-raising at the beginning of a school year is its tradition.
“It saddens me to see all the controversy and disturbances in Hong Kong over the summer. Those young people who threw a national flag into the sea must have very low respect for the flag and the country. Today’s ceremony is significant. It teaches students to respect the country,” he told a roomful of attendees.
“We can only have a safe home and a nice place to study when we have a strong nation at our back. For Hong Kong to develop, it must integrate into the overall picture of the Chinese nation, and that is the way for young people in Hong Kong to find success in the future,” he said.
As students return to school, a handful of violent demonstrators disrupted the morning public commuting by blocking train doors.
To avoid possible disturbances by riots, teachers arrived at the school early on Monday morning, said Sharon Yau, one of the 60 teachers at the school.
“I can’t help worrying about not being able to get to work, a traffic jam or a station shut down due to the protests. Demands should be expressed in a sensible manner, instead of disrupting people’s lives and causing fear,” she said.
A team of 19 young flag guards in white uniforms marched in the ceremony, while their classmates watched respectfully. All stood at attention as the flag was hoisted.
“I’m nervous but very excited. We practiced a lot to make sure we march at the same pace. This is a huge honor for me,” said 9-year-old April Lam, who joined the flag guard team five months ago.
Hong Kong has more than 1,000 kindergartens, 587 elementary schools, 506 secondary schools, and 22 institutions that confer higher education degrees. Classes began on Monday without disturbances, despite boycott calls from the opposition. Kindergartens canceled classes due to torrential downpours.
On Monday, yellow school buses were visible on the streets. Most schools in Hong Kong were generally normal on the first school day, and the traffic was smooth, said Kevin Yeung Yun-hung, secretary for education of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (HKSAR) government.
“In the past few weeks, we have been liaisoning and discussing with different stakeholders in the sector to ensure normal school operation as far as possible. Of course, we need to monitor the situation closely, and we are prepared to provide support to schools if necessary,” Yeung said.
“I think it’s a common value in the society and also among the education sector that schools should not be used as places to make political demands or to put pressure on the government for political needs,” Yeung added.
RESTORING ORDER AT SCHOOLS
Long before the new academic year kicked off on Monday, concerns had been mounting about possible campus bullying, especially those targeting children of police officers.
The personal data of at least 1,662 police officers and their families have been illegally disclosed online since June, including pictures of the children of the police and information about their schools and classes.
In some cases, teachers reportedly encouraged bullying against children of the police. In response, Yeung issued a stern warning that the schools concerned must “take disciplinary action” and the education bureau will impose punishment accordingly, including considering whether they are still qualified to be an educator.
In the face of cyberbullying and threats of attacks against children of the police, personal alarm devices were offered to police with children under the age of 18, according to media reports.
According to the police, 117 liaison officers keep in contact with primary and secondary schools to offer assistance if necessary.
The unrest since early June has already had a negative impact on some middle school students, sending an alarm to teachers, parents, and civil groups. Two petrol bombs were found among the belongings of a 13-year-old suspect detained recently.
In an open letter to all elementary and middle schools in Hong Kong, a civil group named Safeguard Hong Kong warned of possible class boycotts and campus bullying and called for efforts to bring the “nature of education” back to schools.
CALLS TO END CHAOS
The prolonged protests and violence have drawn ire among the public. On Monday, a handful of violent demonstrators disrupted morning commuting by blocking train doors. Hong Kong opposition also bewitched students to boycott classes to keep tensions high.
Denouncing the new wave of disruptive and even dangerous behaviors, many people are appealing for peace and rational thinking.
Before the new semester began, Margaret Chan, former director-general of the World Health Organization, called on students not to skip classes amid the current chaos and refrain from violent protests.
“School years are the most beautiful and precious time in one’s life,” Chan, who is also a mother, said in a statement to students. “Cherish your time, get yourselves prepared for a beautiful future.”
The current situation also left Yu Kwok-chun, vice chairman of the All-China Federation of Returned Overseas Chinese, in distress, particularly when he saw teenagers and students being instigated into violent acts.
“I hope students can calm down and return to campus for the new semester,” Yu said.
Yu’s concerns were echoed by Lam Suk-yee, former president of the Hong Kong Federation of Trade Unions.
“The unrest has brought mayhem to Hong Kong’s economy and public security, and greatly damaged infrastructure facilities,” Lam said. “Such acts are harming others and not benefiting society. Our residents have had enough.”
She hoped all students and workers, white- or blue-collar, can stick to their posts amid efforts to stop violence, end the chaos, restore order and rebuild a prosperous and stable Hong Kong.