Learning to teach better
The thriving culture of professional development in the teaching profession has sustained demand for postgraduate programmes in education.
There has been stable enrolment in the Hong Kong Institute of Education's (HKIEd) master of education (MEd) and doctor of education (EdD) programmes in the past few years.
The part-time MEd programme attracted 465 applicants for the 2007-2008 academic year, up from 430 in 2006-07 for a total of 270 enrollees.
The programme offers a variety of specialist streams, on top of the option of a generalist mode for those with a broad interest in education.
More than 12 areas of specialisation are on offer, ranging from assessment and evaluation, mathematics education, gifted education, creative arts and early childhood education to educational management and leadership.
Graduates of the TESOL and English language education stream are exempt from the Education Bureau's benchmark test for English teachers.
Director of graduate programmes at HKIEd Grace Mak Chiu-ling said most students had gone for the specialist route, while a small number of others, including a retired lawyer, were pursuing the generalist mode out of personal interest.
The MEd qualification could prepare students for a career change or put teachers in an advantageous position in their career development, Dr Mak said.
She compared the MEd qualification's value to that of a bachelor's degree in the teaching profession 20 years ago, when a sizeable number of teachers had not gone to university.
Almost all teachers are now degree holders, so a postgraduate qualification can increase one's competitiveness.
'Having the qualification also increases teachers' self-confidence in coping with the education reform,' Dr Mak said.
The master's programmes equip teachers with broader, more relevant knowledge, which is increasingly important in a fast-changing world.
Globalisation and the rise of new technology mean it is more necessary than ever for teachers to keep up to date with what is happening in their field.
'The teaching profession worldwide is faced with the challenge of coping with new knowledge. Changes are occurring at a rapid rate these days. The whole education sector has changed. The teaching content and interactions with students have become more lively. People can grasp new knowledge much faster than before,' Dr Mak said.
The master's programmes differed from specialist teacher training, Dr Mak said, but they could prepare teachers for career changes. For example, science teachers who have opted for the liberal studies stream may switch to teach the science modules in liberal studies, which are compulsory under the new senior secondary curriculum to be implemented next year.
The education reforms in Hong Kong accentuate the need for further training among teachers.
'The most painful period of reform - when many measures were introduced together and quickly - is over. But other outstanding measures, such as assessment reform and the 3+3+4 academic reforms have yet to be put into place,' Dr Mak said.
She said teachers were undergoing a tough time combining postgraduate studies with their work. She has seen many tired faces among students attending classes at the Tai Po campus after work in the evening, but many were driven by a desire for knowledge.
'A third to two thirds of the teachers today go to classes for further studies after school. Continuous learning has become a professional culture for the teaching profession. Among our graduates are people in their 50s and 60s, or retiring principals who are not studying for survival but simply to learn more.'
Teachers needed stamina to complete their studies while meeting the huge demands of their work, Dr Mak said. She said schools could help ease teacher pressure by rescheduling their timetables so they could handle their studies more effectively.
About 20 experienced teachers and principals are enrolled in the doctoral programme, which costs HK$190,000 and is professionally oriented, as is the MEd programme, costing HK$72,000. Both programmes can be studied full- or part-time. Two scholarships, each worth HK$120,000, will be available for the doctoral programme in the coming academic year.
The PhD candidates tend to have more than 10 years of working experience, with the majority being teachers and principals.
HKIEd courses also attracted mainland educators.
About 10 per cent of applications for the EdD programme for the 2007-2008 academic year came from the mainland, compared with 15 per cent for the MEd course.