International education is a growing global trend, and Asia leads the way

International education remains a growing global trend, with Asia leading the way - and it looks set to stay that way, writes Linda Yeung

PUBLISHED : Monday, 20 January, 2014, 10:31am
UPDATED : Monday, 20 January, 2014, 10:31am

Simon Giddings was unlike most backpackers when he arrived in Beijing from London in 1997. Not content with aimless travelling, he came with a clear purpose - to teach at an international school. Hoping to make a change in his life and live in a different part of the world, Asia - a region undergoing dynamic growth - seemed a natural choice.

His career flourished. Having moved to Hong Kong several years after arriving on the continent, he began teaching at one of the English Schools Foundation (ESF) schools. He switched to the Kellett School seven years ago to steer the growth of its senior section. Last September the school opened its new sprawling campus in Kowloon Bay, adding 100 to the number of senior places offered by the school.

[Overseas teachers] see Hong Kong as a very vibrant city and an attractive place to work
Simon Giddings, deputy principal 

As senior school head and deputy principal, Giddings expects more expatriate teachers to follow in his footsteps by opting for a career in international education.

Kellett has recruited about 80 teachers over the past seven years. The number of vacancies will only increase as the school braces for a growing student population beyond the current total of 1,000 at its Kowloon and Pok Fu Lam campuses - it's due to open Year 13 classes next year. There are up to 100 applications from around the world for each teaching position.

"We have an increasing number of very strong applicants for the jobs we offer," says Giddings.

He expects the soaring demand for international education in the region to continue. Globally, the number of qualified teachers needed for international schools is expected to grow from 320,000 today to about 570,000 by 2023, according to the UK-based International School Consultancy Group (ISC).

In Hong Kong, the number of international schools has risen rapidly over the past decade to 50. The latest player is Nord Anglia Education, owned by investment firm Baring Private Equity, which will open a school for pupils aged between five and 12 in Lam Tin in September. It will also offer a British curriculum.

Singapore-based EtonHouse International Education Group has just opened its first preschool campus in Tai Tam.

ISC reports suggest that local students now make up 80 per cent of international school places, especially in Asia, which has more than half the world's international schools. Thirty years ago it was expatriate children who took up 80 per cent of the places.

Running 21 schools and kindergartens, ESF saw the same amount of interest in its teaching jobs last year as it did in its latest recruitment drive for more than 120 teaching posts. The year-on-year attrition rate has been stable, according to its human resources director Charles Caldwell.

"ESF remains an employer of choice for expatriate teachers from a wide range of regions and countries. This may be due to competitive remuneration packages, excellent continuous professional development opportunities and priority of admissions for children of staff offered by ESF," he says. "Our teachers always report an appreciation for working in the dynamic city of Hong Kong." ESF teaching staff are paid between HK$400,860 and HK$701,520 per year.

Giddings and Caldwell are both aware that overseas teachers know about issues with air pollution and the shortage of primary international school places in Hong Kong. But Giddings maintains that a large number remain interested in making the move. For his school at least, there have always been more single than married teachers applying for jobs. "They see Hong Kong as a very vibrant city and an attractive place to work."

Of his time in teaching Giddings says he has enjoyed working among what he calls highly motivated students who are very interested in the world and a broad range of subjects, as well as families from a wide range of careers and backgrounds. Having spent the prime years of his life away from his home country, he now sees himself as a global citizen. "Now I appreciate the world as a small place. Our students also view the world as a small place. It is important for international education to prepare students for that world.

"The aspiration of the international community is very much that their children should be able to fit in anywhere in the world, so education should prepare someone for New York, Paris, Tokyo, Jakarta, wherever they ends up working or going to university. They have to have an understanding of his responsibility in the global community," he says.

A whole-person education is therefore necessary not just for nurturing the next generation, but also to bolster students' chances of entering top universities, which is one of the main reasons many Chinese parents enrol their children in international schools.

So who is cut out for teaching jobs here? Wherever one teaches, Giddings says, a passion for teaching is indispensable.

A postgraduate-level teaching qualification and a proven record of success in good schools elsewhere are also expected, he adds.

Coming to Hong Kong may be an easier decision for those hired by international schools as the hefty fees charged allow the schools to invest in a host of facilities and pay attractive salaries.

For overseas applicants to the government-run native English-speaking teachers (NET) scheme, intended to beef up English-language learning in local schools, it may not be such an easy decision. NET teachers are paid monthly salaries between HK$23,285 and HK$47,290 in primary schools and between HK$24,450 and HK$56,810 in secondary schools - on top of a special monthly allowance of HK$16,859 - but the cost of living and the environment are a worry for many.

"Hong Kong is not perceived as family-friendly. The difficulty securing a place for their children in an affordable, suitable and accessible school is a definite barrier for NET teachers with families to consider," says Nigel Pearson, acting chairman of the Native English Speaking Teachers' Association.

"NETs find it is not easy to locate schools willing and able to give appropriate language education to their children. Compounding this is the high cost of living, most noticeably the cost of accommodation. Furthermore, NET teachers do not have the same resources and assistance that their corporate expat counterparts may have." Recruitment for the NET scheme continues until the end of this month. About 120 NET teachers did not renew their contracts for the current school year.

"The supply of NET teachers in Hong Kong is not just affected by the value of local and international currencies or the employment options teachers have in their own countries," Pearson says.