Attract professionals with good English skills to careers in teaching

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 10 January, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 10 January, 2010, 12:00am

None would dispute parents' perennial concern about the quality of English education in Hong Kong. As rightly pointed out in your editorial ('Lessons to be learned from a return to English,' January 6), the government's fine-tuning of the medium of instruction policy is just part of a whole package of measures needed to enhance the quality of English learning in schools.

Quality primary and secondary English teachers play a key role, but as we all know, many in the current system are hardly inspiring models. One reason is their lack of exposure to an English environment in the first place, caused perhaps partly by their heavy administrative and teaching workload that leaves them with little free time for cross-cultural activities or simply reading or watching English materials.

In the highly commercial society of Hong Kong, graduates with good language skills are likely to opt for high-paying jobs in the business sector or professions such as law or accountancy.

But these and many others with a good command of English are prime candidates for English teachers. It could be an inspiring move to broaden the pool of teachers by attracting experienced professionals with proven language skills. Experienced business executives, PR professionals, journalists, even lawyers - people well used to communicating in English - could fare better than many serving teachers with little real-life contact with foreigners or experience in writing in English. I have heard senior form students complain of their English teachers going over past A-Level examination papers in class while not even bothering to give explanations to answers.

Language proficiency is better acquired through exposure and practice than tests and examinations. Why not encourage mature professionals to pursue teacher training? Unfortunately, most part-time postgraduate training places are reserved for serving teachers. Another obstacle to attracting new talent to the field is remuneration. Mature, experienced professionals should be rewarded for their past work experience, not on the basis of their teaching experience alone.

Y. Chan, Mid-Levels