NETs want their views heard on hiring crisis

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 29 January, 2005, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 29 January, 2005, 12:00am

Teachers say the current scheme is flawed, preventing them from fulfilling their duties and driving many back home

Native English-speaking teachers (NETs) are demanding the government carry out a comprehensive survey of their views to address a 'crisis of recruitment' in the NET scheme.

Serving NETs say flaws in the scheme are preventing them from fulfilling their role as key 'change agents' of the education system and forcing many capable teachers to leave. They say a survey of all primary NETs is needed as a first step towards bringing in changes they believe are needed to make the scheme work.

NETs spoke out after the Education and Manpower Bureau revealed it had fallen short of its recruitment targets for the primary NET scheme by 60 per cent, as reported in the South China Morning Post earlier this month .

The bureau had aimed to recruit an extra 100 primary NETs by this month towards its aim of having one NET in every primary school - rather than one between two. But after nearly 50 per cent of primary NETs ending their contracts last year did not renew, the EMB only managed to attract an extra 26, while schools' own recruitment efforts brought in an additional 15.

One primary NET, who declined to be named for fear that his career would suffer, said he realised within three months of coming to Hong Kong that his hopes of being an agent of change were unrealistic.

'To survive, NETs have to conform to the status quo within the Hong Kong school system and many feel that they are overpowered by a system that is unready and unwilling to change,' he said.

Co-teaching with a local English teacher, a key aspect of the scheme, was not working properly because NETs had to co-teach with up to 24 different teachers over a two-week period across two schools.

Disillusioned teachers vented their frustrations in internet chatrooms and some returned to their home countries and dampened fellow teachers' interest in Hong Kong with negative reports.

Cuts in salaries and housing allowance over recent years under the civil service pay cuts were a further deterrent.

'It is essential that the EMB seeks feedback from the NETs themselves as to how they feel they could be more effective,' he said. 'The NETs need to be surveyed about their individual teaching experience.'

Another primary NET, who also asked not to be named, backed the survey call and said: 'There is something fundamentally wrong with the NET scheme. The failure lies in the fact that the EMB does not pressure the principals to follow EMB curriculum guidelines. When a NET has a problem it seems that neither the EMB nor the principal is responsible.'

Mark Aldred, president of the Expatriate Teachers' Association, said: 'There is a crisis of recruitment in the primary NET scheme. It is a combination of poor working conditions, uncompetitive salaries, and raising the bar in terms of qualifications at a time when there is a worldwide shortage of teachers.'

Asked about the recruitment issue, John Murnane, chairman of the Native English-speaking Teachers' Association (NESTA), said: 'The NESTA members are some of the best teachers in the world. They and the EMB are dedicated to the development of the NET programme and are working towards this goal. Any questions regarding its progress would be best directed to the EMB.'

Simon Tham, chief curriculum development officer for the NET scheme, said the EMB was constantly reviewing the scheme to make it more effective.

NETs views were being canvassed through a three-year evaluation of the primary NET scheme at 140 schools and self-evaluations at all other participating schools.

'We would also like to carry out an exit poll at the end of this academic year of any NETs who do not renew their contracts to find out their reasons for leaving,' he said.

Mr Tham said NETs were part of the English panel team and most would work with between four to eight teachers per school.

Primary NETs are paid on a salary scale from $16,165 to $36,575 per month and receive a special allowance of $10,000. Under the scheme, a school English teacher is allocated to liaise between the NET and school managers and a team of 40 advisory teachers provide training and support.

A survey of NETs, English panel chairs and principals last year showed an average satisfaction rating of 4.66 on a scale of one to six on the administration of the NET scheme, he added.