Churches fight invasion of outside governors

30th July 2004 at 01:00

In supposedly integrated French schools, Muslims and Christians are eating in different parts of the canteen, even using separate taps. TES correspondents across the globe examine the escalating battle between religion and secularism

Church groups will seek to block the government's school reforms in court, claiming they will undermine the religious character of their schools.

A Bill passed on July 8 will force all state-funded schools to be run by committees that must include elected teacher and parent representatives.

But church schools fear that allowing outsiders a say in how they are run could undermine their religious ethos.

Sponsoring bodies, which currently manage schools through their supervisors, would be able to appoint only 60 per cent of the members, with their chief representative acting as chairman, but they would still set the school's vision and mission.

Although they have until 2012 to make the change, the 78 schools run directly by government have already introduced the reform.

Bishop Joseph Zen Ze-kiun, head of the Catholic diocese, had conducted a candlelight vigil to "pray for a miracle" before the legislative council's vote on the reform. "They say it is democracy but this is not," he said.

"Once a managing committee is incorporated into each school, we will simply be bypassed. Little by little, schools will lose their Catholic, Lutheran or Methodist characteristics."

But education secretary Arthur Li Kwok-cheung said the bill provided a legal framework for good governance and better education. "It beats me why some school sponsoring bodies have so little faith in their teachers and the parents of their students who stand ready to contribute," he said.

The Anglican and Catholic churches have vowed to sue the government, saying the bill breaches Hong Kong's mini-constitution, which guarantees the churches the right to continue running schools.

* About 300 teachers are to be made redundant in Hong Kong because of falling rolls.

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