NETs target is cut as teacher numbers fall
Exodus last year takes heavy toll on plans to double number of primary native English speakers over the next three years
Education chiefs have cut targets for expanding the primary NETs scheme after recruitment fell short by 60 per cent last year, a move condemned by the Native English Speaking Teachers' Association as detrimental to the future of English teaching in Hong Kong.
Plans to double the number of primary NETs within three years so every school would have its own were announced last June.
The Education and Manpower Bureau earmarked $60 million a year for the expansion and set a target of 100 new teachers for last year. It expected to step up the drive in the years to come.
But after half of all primary NETs left the scheme last summer, only 41 teachers were signed for the primary expansion by August last year, of whom 15 were recruited directly by schools.
To meet the goal of doubling the number of primary NETs by 2007, more than 100 would need to be recruited for the coming academic year. But rather than stepping up their recruitment effort, senior officials at the EMB have instead scaled back their target and now only aim to better last year's effort.
By the end of the 2005-6 school year, they expect a third of primary schools to have their own NET - a rate of expansion that would see the plan completed in six years.
Sam Hui Chark-shum, Assistant Secretary (Special Duties), who oversees the NET scheme, said: 'We can't say for sure whether we can achieve the one NET per school target within three years.
'We never explicitly set that as our policy goal in expanding the primary NET scheme. It has been our planning target at the practical level but it is not a policy pledge.'
In the wake of the last-minute exodus of primary NETs last summer, the EMB is projecting nearly half of all NETs due to complete their contracts this year will leave. It has set targets to recruit 70 primary NETs and 70 secondary NETs to replace those who leave this summer.
Under the bureau's continuous recruitment programme, 87 primary teachers and 80 secondary teachers have been recruited, although some may drop out.
'The recruitment effort should be more or less sufficient to replace the NETs who are leaving Hong Kong,' Mr Hui said.
On top of the 167 earmarked candidates, a further 100 shortlisted teachers were being interviewed in Canada with a view to expanding the primary NET scheme.
'If we can appoint 40 of them we would be doing quite well,' Mr Hui said. 'This will bring the total number of primary schools employing one NET to 200 out of a total of about 600 public sector primary schools.'
John Murnane, chairman of the Native English Speaking Teachers' Association, said: 'Nesta believes that recruitment is essential to the success of the NET scheme. Any downturn, modification or lowering of recruitment targets by the EMB of NETs will be detrimental to English language teaching.'
Primary NET Richard Barry, who is shared between Island Road Government Primary School in Aberdeen and Hong Kong Southern District Government Primary School in Ap Lei Chau, said: 'I was hoping that, within a couple of years, I would have the opportunity to choose to work in just one of the two schools.'
Tsoi Kai-chun, vice-chairman of the Subsidised Primary Schools' Council, said: 'The EMB should give some freedom to the schools to choose whether they want to do their own recruitment for NETs.
'They should provide them with enough money to cover the costs of recruiting abroad.
'I think the schools would be more successful at recruiting teachers because they know their own particular needs.'