School's in for teachers

PUBLISHED : Monday, 14 November, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 14 November, 2011, 12:00am

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Teachers and principals are feeling the need to upgrade themselves in the wake of rapid changes in order to meet demands in curricular reform, public accountability and the growth of international education.

And there are many options to meet different desires. 'The local education system has changed so much that teachers need to cope with the challenges they face,' says Stephen Andrews, dean of the University of Hong Kong's education faculty.

'Some of the master's programmes we offer are very subject specific; others are much more related to challenges such as inclusive or higher education.'

HKU's Master of Education in Language Across the Curriculum is a new offering that helps non-English-language teachers teach in English after the government introduced a so-called fine-tuning of classroom language policy last year, giving schools more flexibility in offering English-taught subjects.

Other areas covered in the programme include English-language education, liberal studies and mathematics - all compulsory subjects in the new senior secondary curriculum. Under the Professional Development Incentive Grant Scheme, English and Chinese-language teachers furthering their training are eligible for reimbursement of up to HK$30,000.

A less intensive option than the master's route is HKU's Postgraduate Certificate in Advanced Educational Studies programme, which covers liberal studies, humanities and mathematics. It consists of only three accredited master's level modules and can be completed part-time within four years.

'It is a challenge to engage teachers and principals in class after a day's work but they are very, very committed to professional development,' Andrews observes.

In any case, teachers today are no stranger to the idea of lifelong learning. The same idea is widely promoted among undergraduates, Andrews says, perhaps as a result of which many graduates do return to campus for master's studies. At master's level, 'soft' skills such as communication, critical thinking and self-reflection are emphasised as much as theoretical knowledge; these same skills are seen as pre-requisites for making the '3+3+4' school reform a success.

'[Our teachers] should not be people who slavishly implement policies but should be able to critique initiatives, develop their own views of these things, understand the rationale and make informed professional choices,' he adds.

'No innovation works effectively if people just follow the guidelines without understanding what the guidelines are. This curriculum reform has been a major, fantastically exciting and innovative initiative.'

HKU, Chinese University and Baptist University provide programmes for school management. A trait that Andrews hopes to nurture among principals is an 'openness and willingness to enable teachers to have certain space' in the process of reform.

Other challenges facing the sector include the forces of globalisation and the teaching of Chinese as a second language in international schools or for ethnic minority students. HKU's MEd in Higher Education, available full-time or part-time, deals with pertinent issues such as teaching and learning quality.

'People are being put in positions of authority who have no training or experience organising curriculum,' Andrews says. 'There is a burgeoning of these institutions but not much preparation for people in key positions.'

HKU has introduced more full-time options for foreigners, who do not get student visas for part-time studies.

One attractive programme is the MEd in Comparative and Global Studies in Education and Development, which focuses on the international context and the role of education in development. Also open to educators is the Institute of Education's International Executive Master of Arts in Educational Leadership and Change programme, which has taken in students from mainland China, the Philippines, Indonesia, Thailand and elsewhere.

The students and professors interact mainly online. Students can be asked to do a situation analysis of their own schools. Only one of the eight courses in the 18-month programme is taught face to face, in Bangkok.

'Competition is part and parcel of the sector. Schools are competing for the best students; principals have to become better at a whole range of tasks, for example, in being able to market the school or improve learning outcomes so as to increase their school's reputation,' says Philip Hallinger, the director of HKIEd's Joseph Lau Luen Hung Charitable Trust Asia Pacific Centre for Leadership and Change.

'In order to meet the challenges of this era, you really need a greater density of leadership at each level, whether it is principal, vice-principal, department head or teachers.'