With student enrolment expected to shrink for the next few years, the education chief eased hiring rules on Friday to safeguard teachers’ jobs in Hong Kong schools.
Secretary for Education Eddie Ng Hak-kim announced a revision of the headcount mechanism that determines how many teachers secondary schools can hire.
“My goal is that not a single teacher holding a permanent post will be laid off as a result of the drop of the S1 [secondary form one] student population,” Ng said on Friday after a meeting with school principals.
The mechanism limits schools to 17 teachers for every 10 classes, assuming a class size of 34 students.
But under Friday’s change, if falling enrolments lead to fewer classes, this mechanism will not lead to teacher layoffs unless the teacher surplus continues for three consecutive years, Ng said.
Originally, schools would have to revise their manpower levels in the second year of such a teacher surplus.
The student population is expected to drop by about 11,000 until 2017, when it should rebound according to government planners.
Many principals, parents and teachers want the government to take advantage of the situation to introduce small-class teaching. But education officials said on Friday they had yet to decide whether to switch to smaller classes.
Education officials said on Friday that the “redundant” teachers will have more opportunities to get career and academic training, while sharing the workload of other teachers.
Also attending the meeting with principals was Chief Secretary Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor. Responding to reporters’ questions, Ng said he did not invite Lam because he felt unable to handle the matter by himself.
The government has been under pressure to deal with the problem following a protest by over 200 school principals outside the legislature on November 2, calling on the government to grasp the opportunity to implement small-class teaching.
Ng is one of the city’s least popular ministers, widely seen as unable to handle the recent national education controversy by himself.
Also participating in Friday’s meeting were members of the Hong Kong Professional Teachers’ Union, which is calling for a reduction in class sizes.
HKPTU member Ip Kin-yuen, the education sector lawmaker, said it was clear that falling enrolments would create problems, and that reducing class sizes was the only means of avoiding massive cuts in the number of classes. That, in turn, would create instability at schools and possibly lead to teacher layoffs, he warned.
But Ng told reporters on Friday that the government needed more time to study statistics and weigh proposals for smaller classes. He said the government is “sincere and serious” in its thinking about possibly reducing cutting classes to 30 students.
Dropping enrolments in recent years have led to the closing of some primary and secondary schools and the early retirement of teachers.