Educators urge financial incentives for professionals to combat a looming shortage of language staff Educators have called for new financial incentives to recruit more people to be school language teachers, particularly professionals highly proficient in English. Getting more mature teachers is a solution to the shortage of qualified language teachers, they say. They are worried that the supply of English teachers will be inadequate by next year, when all new language teachers must reach the standards required by the government's benchmark tests. The chances of that look slim, given that 450 of the 895 English and Putonghua teachers who joined the profession in 2001 and sat the test this year failed. Of the 895, 643 were teaching English and half of them failed. 'There are not enough students doing a bachelor of education in English or majoring in English to help meet the demand,' said Professor Paul Morris, president of Hong Kong Institute of Education (HKIEd). 'It is a positive thing to bring in people with other work experience, provided they have some background in the language they are teaching.' About a third of Hong Kong's 15,000 English teachers have either gained exemptions or reached the benchmark standards. Those who joined the profession before 2001 must meet the requirement by 2006. Those with degrees in the relevant language area and who have done postgraduate teacher-training are exempted from the tests. Choi Kwok-kwong, vice-chairman of pressure group Education Convergence, doubts if many teachers will ever make the grade. 'Many of the teachers were not English majors at university, and the benchmark requirements are not low,' he said. Hui Chin-yim, a committee member of the Subsidised Secondary Schools Council, supports recruiting more talent from other fields. 'People who have worked elsewhere can bring along different social experiences. Mature teachers can bring the real world to the classroom. People who have been journalists, for example, can stimulate students' learning interest by telling stories about their past job or organising reporting trips.' Some say financial incentives should be introduced to encourage working people to go for the necessary training, most at postgraduate level offered on a full-time basis for one year at various institutions. Lai Kwok-chan, head of planning and academic implementation at HKIEd, suggested offering bursaries to working people taking its postgraduate teacher-training courses. The same benefit could also be extended to undergraduate English majors to encourage them to go for teaching later, he said. Hong Kong should follow overseas examples, like that of Singapore, which has introduced financial incentives for new teachers switching from other fields, he said. 'Regardless of how successful they have been in their jobs, working professionals have to start from scratch and take up teacher training before they can find any teaching job,' he added. In Britain, bursaries are offered to anyone undertaking training to teach subjects with teacher shortages, such as mathematics and science. Locally, schools pay new teachers the starting salary of about $17,000, regardless of experience. Barley Mak Chan Shuk-yin, senior instructor in the Department of Curriculum and Instruction at the Chinese University of Hong Kong (CUHK), said the government should work out a new pay mechanism with teaching experts, unions and schools to attract more outside talent. 'I have no objection to paying people with several years of experience more,'' she said. But hiring from other sectors may only be a partial solution. Chung Chor-man, director of the board of professional programmes in education at CUHK's Faculty of Education, said only a small number of non-serving teachers had applied to its part-time postgraduate diploma in education programme, which had been open only to serving teachers until last year. Deputy Secretary for Education and Manpower Cheng Man-yiu has dismissed worries about a teacher shortage, saying 450 graduates from English programmes should join the workforce this year, of whom 280 would get an exemption.