Whistle-blower's contract snub
The Institute of Vocational Education is not renewing the contract of a lecturer who accused it of pressuring teachers to raise students' exam pass rate by tampering with grades.
The Kwun Tong school, which is overseen by the Vocational Training Council (VTC), told Alice Mak Yin-fung on May 23 it would not renew her contract to teach a higher diploma course in marketing for the coming academic year.
The institute cited poor performance based on Mak's most recent job appraisal as its reason to end her year-to-year contract, but she believes the real reason was her public criticism of the VTC last month.
On May 2, Mak participated in a Professional Teachers' Union press conference in which she claimed that another lecturer at the institute had revised her grades on a final exam in autumn, raising 11 students to passing from failing. The changes bumped the pass rate on that exam to 75 per cent from 60 per cent.
'If I am such a terrible teacher, then why didn't they get rid of me earlier? The timing is eery,' said Mak, who learned of the poor appraisal on May 23. She has demanded evidence for the 'inadequate' performance and unfavourable student surveys cited in her appraisal report.
A spokeswoman for the VTC, Hong Kong's leading vocational training group, said decisions about promotions and contract renewals were based solely on operational needs and job performance. 'Staff members' participation in union activities and complaints against the council are not matters that would affect decisions on contract renewal or promotion,' she said.
VTC executive director Dr Carrie Willis said that the council would set up a panel of 'external members' to review the case.
Meanwhile, Mak's case has drawn support from VTC Academic Staff Association president Albert Li Sau-sang, who says the problem of grade-rigging goes well beyond the instance Mak cited. Li plans to join Mak and other colleagues in a 'silent' sit-in before and during a council meeting on Thursday at the VTC Tower in Wan Chai.
Professional Teachers' Union president Fung Wai-wah said Mak's case was part of a growing trend of linking teachers' job performance to their students' grades, something the VTC has denied.
Mak said: 'There is a real sense of white terror amongst staff, of being afraid to speak out in fear of losing their jobs, but it is just a job to me. We, as teachers, must safeguard the validity of our students' diplomas, which they use to serve our society.'
Some of Mak's students have praised her for speaking out, including Chris Wong, 19, who failed the final exam last autumn. Wong passed it at the second attempt this year and has now pooled money with a dozen other classmates to buy Mak a sleeping bag for the sit-in.
'It would be terrifying if a staff member was capable of changing my grade from a fail to a pass,' Wong said. He said Mak helped students who were falling behind while other teachers might only tell them to memorise material or ask a classmate for help. 'Ms Mak explains the material meticulously and raises examples to help us understand,' he said.
'She holds extra classes before exam time to help us study, which would be unnecessary if she could easily change our grades.'
The number of member institutions in the Vocational Training Council group. They teach 190,000 students a year