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"Canada can, within a positive friendly atmosphere, ask the Chinese government to resolve the Tibetan situation."

Toronto school board partnership with China's Confucius Institute sparks protest

June 16, 2014

June 10, 2014  - A group of parents and human rights activists want the Toronto District School Board to scrap a new partnership with a Chinese agency they fear could lead to their children being “brainwashed with cultural propaganda.”

The group plans to protest outside the TDSB Wednesday evening before a committee meeting where they hope to persuade trustees to suspend their new partnership with the Confucius Institute, which is slated to bring student teachers from China this fall to serve as resource people for Chinese language classes after school.

“This is about human rights — it doesn’t make sense that schools in a democratic country would partner with a government that oppresses Tibetans, Taiwanese, Falun Gong, democracy activists and Uyghurs,” said parent Mike Lewis, who has set up a protest website and a petition against the new Confucius Institute program that he says has some 500 signatures.

“We don’t want our children brainwashed with cultural propaganda,” said the petition.

The sheet metal worker, who has a daughter at Winchester Public School, has organized the rally with several human rights groups. He said protesters plan to wear black gags over their mouths to represent the censorship they say is rampant in China.

Confucius Institutes are cultural institutions connected to the Chinese government that are designed to promote Chinese culture and connections around the world. However, some critics, including the Canadian Association of University Teachers, have warned they are a political mouthpiece for Beijing and its oppression of minority groups. McMaster University recently closed its Institute down after learning it would not use teachers from China if they were members of Falun Gong.

But unlike universities, the TDSB partnership will not let Confucius Institute members teach local children, said Karen Falconer, the board’s executive superintendent of continuing and international education. Several student teacher volunteers from Hunan Normal University will come as resource people to lead Chinese arts activities such as dance or music, or language activities, for the 10,000 students whose parents sign them up for after-school and weekend Mandarin classes.

“I understand people have very strong feelings about China, but the program is just to provide resources for teachers who want it, to help make programs as culturally authentic as they can be,” said Falconer, who said board rules require children to be supervised at all times by the board’s own employees, screened and trained in equity policies.

“There is no direct instruction of children by Confucius Institute — and no opportunity for propaganda.”

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