Experienced English language specialist maid in Hong Kong
Congratulations to Steven Sidley. His comprehensive and accurate article, 'Flawed system real reason for failings in the NETs scheme' (Education Post, June 16), accurately diagnoses the reasons for the failure of the NET scheme in most schools. As he says: 'Archaic tradition and routine ... is the antithesis of quality education.'
The Education and Manpower Bureau should be congratulated for creating another class of employment visa holders. We are really 'foreign domestic educational helpers', not agents of change. I have taught in Hong Kong as a secondary and primary NET for nearly six years. I have never been consulted, nor been allowed to implement any changes in any areas of language education, including curriculum implementation, teaching methodology and assessment.
The qualifications demanded for NETs to teach English in Hong Kong exceed those of local language teachers. My more than 35 years of primary and secondary teaching experience in four countries and in two languages has been totally ignored. My BA degree, PGDE and MEd, specialising in second language acquisition, along with additional ESL courses have no value in Hong Kong.
Schools continue to fail to implement the English language curriculum guide, as its use is 'suggested' only.
The Standing Committee on Language Education and Research (Scolar) in its 'Action Plan to Raise Language Standards in Hong Kong' (June 2003) says that 'School management should discourage an examination-oriented culture and the inappropriate and ineffective use of textbooks, homework and assessment ... They should uphold the professional decisions of their language subject panels, and strengthen communications with parents, explaining to them the school's language teaching approaches ... and allow them [language teachers] to focus on improving the quality of language teaching and learning.'
If schools are not following the curriculum, implementing changes recommended by the EMB and Scolar, I doubt that there is any hope that we NETs will even be listened to. As usual, the EMB is a toothless, paper tiger and has no real power or authority over schools to properly implement the NET scheme. The EMB supplies the salary, benefits and bodies to the schools to use their English-speaking 'maid'.
I suggest that schools which fail to fulfill the objectives of the scheme or fail a quality inspection should not be allowed to hire their own NET nor have one supplied to them by the EMB for a period of one year until remediation is ensured. Our government and educational leaders and high-ranking civil servants are totally removed from and oblivious to the realities of the situation. Read the biographies of the latest government appointees. Most received their secondary education and tertiary degrees in English language institutions outside of Hong Kong. I dare say that none completed 13 years of schooling (not education) in Hong Kong.
Our system is diseased. Schools are failing to undergo surgery and to take the medicine prescribed to them by specialists. NETs are ignored as highly trained and experienced medical specialists and are treated as maids.
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Melting pot adds different emphasis
I work in an institution where English is taught by native and non-native English speakers, all of whom are great teachers, having a command of their subject (English) and fine teaching skills. There are many such institutions in Hong Kong, Asia and throughout the world.
It has been a long time since English was the sole property of native English speakers and in fact there has never been 'one' English.
The discussion about who is fit to teach English would be much more helpful if it took into account today's realities and also if it did not entertain appalling, misguided prejudice.
The number of 'A's fails to add up
The Good Schools Guide pointed out the gravest root cause that has been undermining the local education system and demoralising many generations of local students.
It rightly observes that public examinations award grade As to 4 per cent of entries in Hong Kong compared with 24 per cent in Britain, making it unfairly difficult for Hong Kong students to gain entrance to top-notch universities overseas.
Quantitative differences apart, the examinations also differ qualitatively, especially in mathematics and sciences. Whereas Hong Kong students have consistently ranked among the top three in the league tables of intellectual performance, British standards have been declining. In a recent survey, Coventry University found that in Britain 'those with a 'B' grade at A-Level now have the same or worse maths as those with an 'N' [fail] grade in 1991'.
Every Hong Kong student in a second-tier local university has friends who, despite their inferior academic results while in Hong Kong, have passed British A-level with flying colours and gained admittance to Oxbridge.
Local Cantonese-speaking parents understandably want to send their children to England or local international schools if they could afford the cost or send them to ESF schools. However, it is unforgivable that, instead of rectifying Hong Kong's grossly iniquitous examination system, Arthur Li and Fanny Law who, despite their ministerial responsibility over Hong Kong's education enterprise and their own backgrounds in local schools, simply deserted local schools and sent their children to ESF schools.
There is also inequity in resources allocation. Subsidies for ESF schools are allotted in accordance with the number of classes whereas that for local schools, the number of students, thus facilitating ESF to run small-sized classes. Some classes in ESF's secondary section have fewer than 10 students each whereas class size of over 40 is not unusual in local schools.
I hope the chief executive makes resolution of these problems a priority and secures a public apology from the Examination Authority for the harm it has caused to generations of local students.
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