HONG KONG The Hong Kong government said on Saturday schools did not have to adopt a China-backed curriculum from 2015 in an apparent backdown following protests by tens of thousands of people who described it as an attempt to brainwash students.
Parents, teachers and students have staged a week-long protest, claiming the curriculum amounts to Communist Party propaganda that glosses over the darker aspects of Chinese rule.
The decision comes on the eve of elections in Hong Kong, a former British territory handed back to China in 1997, that will see a legislature expanded from 60 to 70 seats, with just over half of them to be directly elected.
Hong Kong's embattled new leader Leung Chun-ying called the move on the education plan a "major policy amendment", saying he had heard and understood the public's criticism.
The government noted the scheme had not been withdrawn and that schools could introduce it as they saw fit.
"We don't want the recent controversy to affect the operations of schools, nor do we want to see the harmony of the education environment to be affected (by the scheme)," said Leung.
The Beijing-backed Hong Kong leader has drawn criticism over a series of issues since he took office on July 1, including the national education programme, sky-high property prices and concerns about an influx of mainland Chinese visitors to the former British colony.
(Reporting by James Pomfret and Alex Frew McMillan; editing by Anne Marie Roantree)