Expatriate Teachers' Association still cautious as scheme reaches full implementation, but EMB sings its praises Foreign teachers are queueing up to join the Native English Teacher (NET) scheme, according to Chris Wardlaw, deputy secretary for education and manpower, who oversees the scheme. Contrary to warnings from NETs sent out internationally that people should think long and hard before taking up a job, there now was a waiting list, Mr Wardlaw said. This year's recruitment exercise had attracted 1,100 applicants with the number of NETs in Hong Kong now reaching 800 - a long way from just 30 in 1997, the Education and Manpower Bureau (EMB) announced this week to mark the full implementation of the scheme. 'The vast majority of NETs have a professionally rewarding experience,' said Mr Wardlaw. 'Three out of four wish to renew their contracts and we have a queue of NETs wanting to come to Hong Kong.' The EMB reported on glowing experiences of two teachers. Nancie Brown, a NET from Australia who splits her time between two primary schools, in Lai Chi Kok and Sham Shui Po, was quoted as saying: 'Each and every staff member in both schools, both teaching and support staff, welcomed me with open arms and excitement.' John Wong, also from Australia, said: 'Hong Kong teachers are able to provide valuable local knowledge and experience while I'm able to contribute ideas, activities and resources used overseas.' Mr Wong affirmed his good experience. Teachers had to be open and flexible, he said. 'Things are different here. If you relate everything to the education system back home you won't be as happy or as satisfied as you could be.' But Mark Aldred, spokesman for the Expatriate Teachers' Association, which has about 100 members and has warned potential NETs of the conflicts they may encounter in Hong Kong, said the EMB's assessment of the scheme did not reflect reality. 'The two glowing stories mentioned in the press release are not the kind of stories that come back to me. And they're certainly not what most NETs say.' Few NETs felt they could contribute to change in their schools, he said. 'The most common complaint is that they are forced to teach according to the textbook and exam,' Mr Aldred said. Some primary schools used NETs for 'window dressing'. 'They are being asked to provide peripheral activities that don't touch the central curriculum,' he said. Contracts varied between schools and were often vague, he said. Principals may withhold salary increases and gratuities if they deem the NET's performance unsatisfactory. ETA offers legal advice on contract issues and is calling for principals' assessments to be subject to appeal as some had used this power to 'bully' teachers. But Mr Wardlaw said if such cases arose, his department would investigate. 'We can't react on the basis of hearsay and fear,' he said. He said the huge investment in the scheme was having wider benefits than anticipated. Improved classroom practice, better professional development and improved language abilities were the obvious ones, he said. But it also reflected Hong Kong's aspirations to be a multi-cultural world city, and helped raise the English standards of local teachers. Adam Rekrut, chairman of the Native English-speaking Teachers Association, said teachers should not be discouraged from coming to Hong Kong. Despite the frustrations of some, the majority were more positive, he said. 'I advise them to nurture their relationships with their principals and panel chairs, do what their schools want them to do and not expect to change everything,' he said. If they made friends with their local colleagues first they were more likely to be listened to later. Lisa Yip Sau-wah, principal of Sha Tin Tsung Tsin Secondary School, said most principals valued NETs: 'They help a lot, not only for the students. They improve the English environment and bring in a different culture. They organise activities with a different perspective from the local English teachers.'