Hong Kong schools

Most Hong Kong teachers overwhelmed by volume of instant messages from parents and students: survey

Invasion of private life and increased work stress lamented

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 03 May, 2017, 8:00pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 04 May, 2017, 12:41am

A majority of teachers in Hong Kong primary and secondary schools are overwhelmed by the volume of instant messages they get daily from parents and students – not to mention colleagues – affecting their private life and increasing their work stress, a survey has found.

They also hoped schools would create a guideline allowing them to go offline after work and free them from the barrage of messages and sleepless nights.

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The Federation of Education Workers, which in January interviewed 500 teachers by questionnaire, said the government should set up the guideline for teachers and ensure no undesirable consequences should they miss parents’ enquiries sent via messaging.

“A teacher is in charge of over 100 pupils every year,” federation vice-chairman Wong Wai-shing said. “If all their pupils’ parents sent messages to their teachers, they’d have to handle these messages 24 hours a day, which is absolutely unhealthy.”

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The survey found that 93 per cent of respondents discussed work with their colleagues outside school hours via instant messaging tools such as WhatsApp, WeChat and Facebook. It also found 51 per cent answered parents’ enquiries on these platforms, 48 per cent answered pupils’ questions relating to their studies, and 27 per cent even counselled their pupils using them.

Teachers have the right not to lose their private life
Wong Wai-shing, Federation of Education Workers

Although 72 per cent of teachers believed such interactions improved the flow of information, 67 per cent felt the messages had affected their private life and 61 per cent said the after-work communications had intensified their job pressure.

Among the respondents, 77 per cent said they believed the Education Bureau should set up a guideline giving them the right to go offline after work.

Wong said many teachers felt disturbed by parents’ enquiries and, sometimes, if they did not provide an answer promptly, they would keep thinking about the questions and find it difficult to sleep, which, in turn, affected their teaching.

He recalled the example of a teacher who was included in a WhatsApp group for an event co-organised by parents and teachers. As parents in the group discussed the event after midnight, the teacher felt obliged to keep reading the messages in case questions arose. Wong said the teacher thought that if he left messaging for the next day, hundreds of unread messages would pile up, making it impossible for him to finish reading in one go.

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Simon Wong Yun-keung, a teacher at TWGHs Kap Yan Directors’ College, said he was included in an average of 12 WhatsApp groups each year and had to task a student in each group to alert him to important messages that required his response because he was unable to handle the high volume.

“Every class has its own group, and every school department has its own group,” he said. “We hope the schools will not punish teachers for not handling after-work messages immediately.”

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Wong of the federation called on the government to educate parents about sending their enquiries through formal channels such as emails and letters.

“We don’t encourage parents to express their views via instant messaging apps,” he said. “Teachers have the right not to lose their private life.”