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Hong Kong schools

Job uncertainty gnaws at Hong Kong’s contract teachers in public schools and causes low morale, union survey finds

Almost two in 10 teachers at the city’s government and aided schools are on short-term contracts, and this affects their ability to nurture pupils

PUBLISHED : Friday, 13 July, 2018, 9:01am
UPDATED : Friday, 13 July, 2018, 12:24pm

At least 17 per cent of educators at Hong Kong’s 844 public primary and secondary schools are on annual contracts earning less than permanent staff even when they have similar qualifications, and this is affecting both their morale and their ability to nurture pupils, the Professional Teachers’ Union has found.

The lack of job security has led to 31 per cent of teachers and close to half of teaching assistants surveyed saying they had considered leaving the education industry.

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The PTU canvassed 2,046 educators on short-term contracts at government and aided schools in the city, in roles ranging from teacher to teaching assistant.

For contract teachers, the PTU found almost half across the different roles are under 30 years old while more than one in three holds a master’s degree or a higher qualification. About one in 10 took home less pay than their peers with permanent jobs.

During my first two years, I was worried and I would try to do more to differentiate myself and prove my worth
Teacher Frances Leong, who recently switched from being on a contract to a permanent role

PTU vice-president Ip Kin-yuen said: “Almost half of the surveyed contract teachers transferred from one school to another within a two-year time frame. Not only could they not take care of the students for long but they also did not have the opportunity to gain experience.”

Ip, who is also an education sector lawmaker, praised Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam’s initiative to raise the pupil-teacher ratio last year, by 0.1 per class, which means that for every 10 classes of students, primary schools would have 16 teachers, junior secondary levels would have 18 and senior secondary levels, 21.

Ip said that after last year’s change, 1,700 contract teachers were able to switch to permanent teaching positions.

But the union called for this to be further increased by 0.2 per class. This meant more young teachers would get training by remaining at schools for a longer period and they could devote more attention to their young charges, it said.

Hong Kong’s public primary and secondary schools, which have more than 550,000 students, traditionally uses educators on short-term contracts to boost manpower, as the number of permanent staff members is governed by the Education Bureau’s pupil-teacher ratio.

“To treat the teachers better is to treat the pupils well,” Ip said. “Apart from the government, the schools also need to treasure the young teachers and try to offer permanent teaching positions to them.”

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Frances Leong, 30, was recently given a permanent role in a secondary school after being on a short-term contract for six years. She said she had no opportunities for promotions when she was a non-permanent member of staff.

“During my first two years, I was worried and I would try to do more to differentiate myself and prove my worth. Starting from the third or fourth year, my boss told me the school would try to arrange a regular position for me.

“He told me that every year but it took them so long and I started to become very discouraged until recently when I finally got my chance.”