Market, cost, pollution and schooling to blame
Educators are warning of a shortage of native English-speaking teachers (NET) in September due to a high turnover and increased demand coupled with problems attracting new blood from overseas.
Pollution, difficulty finding suitable schooling and the cost of living are all taking their toll.
William Yip Kam-yuen, chairman of the Hong Kong Association of Heads of Secondary Schools, said it was becoming 'very difficult' to find suitable NETs.
Mr Yip said his school, Yu Chun Keung Memorial College No 2, in Pok Fu Lam, was seeking a new NET as the current one would be returning to Australia in the summer.
Secondary schools tended to have more experience finding teachers as the scheme had been running since 1998, he said, but 'primary schools are a lot more worried'.
Lam Sheung-wan, honorary chairman of the Aided Primary School Heads' Council, said the hiring situation was 'more serious, more complicated' this year.
'Principals have told me that many NETs are planning to leave Hong Kong when their contracts expire this year,' he said. 'But there are also many schools using alternative funding to hire extra NETs on top of the one they are entitled to.
'The total number of NETs needed by the school system has increased and that is making it more difficult to find fill posts.'
The English panel head of another school, who asked not to be identified, criticised the Education and Manpower Bureau's NET scheme division for failing to do enough to help schools in a similar position. 'Our school contacted the EMB to ask about current NETs who were looking to transfer to different schools, but we heard nothing for more than three weeks. It only got back to us with a list of possible candidates in the past few days.'
She said it was a concern whether interviews could conducted ahead of the summer holidays when most suitable NETs would have gone home.
Damien Vance, chairman of the Native English Teachers' Association (Nesta) said problems such as difficulty finding schools for their children, the worsening of air pollution in the city and the rising cost of living were making overseas teachers less keen to come to Hong Kong
'Why would they [want to come]? Do the maths,' he said. 'These things are all starting to take their toll. The available pool of NETs is shrinking every year.
'I know of a number of elite schools which were left without a NET this year because they could not find one. The market is simply not there.'
Mr Vance said that of the roughly 400 NETs whose two-year contracts were up for renewal this summer, about 100 would have to go, 'either because they're useless or there has been an argument of some sort'.
However, he said it was wrong to blame the EMB for not passing on information as bureau officials were 'left holding the baby' if schools failed to notify them in time whether NETs would be staying on.
Tai Hay-lap, principal of Yan Oi Tong Tin Ka Ping Secondary School in Tuen Mun, said some schools were having recurrent problems retaining NETs, and some regularly experienced overseas teachers who left before their contract was even up. However, he placed the blame firmly on problems relating to school culture.
'There can often be a conflict,' he said. 'I sympathise with some of the schools as it may not be entirely the principal's fault. It can also be down to the teachers ... many NETs feel unwelcome.'
A bureau spokesman said there were 410 NETs with two-year contracts up for renewal in August. Of these, around 380 had informed the bureau of their decision via their respective schools. More than 290 had decided to continue their service under the NET scheme - either at their current school or would seek a position at another - while the rest would leave the scheme.