Since the handover in 1997, Hong Kong’s education sector has undergone radical change and reform.
The ever-increasing workload, work-related stress and demands for accountability from parents and society have pushed many teachers to the breaking point.
Being an educator myself for decades, I have first-hand experience of how the implementation of the new secondary school curriculum, the change of medium of instruction and the introduction of inclusive education (i.e. integrating students with special needs into normal classes) are putting unprecedented pressure on education workers.
The government has failed to provide teachers with the necessary support to finish the task imposed on them.
With a public consultation on the upcoming Policy Address and 2015-16 budget under way, I feel compelled to speak up for my fellow educators and air our grievances.
We want the government to understand the true difficulties education workers face and how disgruntled they are right now.
The number of school-age children is declining and a growing number of schools have either shut down or slashed the number of classes in order to survive.
That has put many teaching jobs on the line, especially those in so-called “CMI schools” that use Chinese as medium of instruction.
The fall in the number of teaching positions across the sector means graduates of the Hong Kong Institute of Education are having a hard time finding jobs.
The Education Bureau should do something to bolster the morale of teachers by preventing any further reduction in the number of secondary one classes next year.
Also, the administration should review the proportion of teachers to students in a standard class to help ease the workload.
The situation is even more worrying in primary schools.
New measures such as whole-day classes and school-based management are putting unbearable pressure on frontline teachers.
A recent survey found that many senior teachers are refusing to become principals because the job is stressful and they think its a thankless task.
But the government obviously was not listening to these concerns when it formulated the education policy.
There has been no effort to address understaffing and lack of resources.
The government continues to turn a blind eye to the fact that at least 15,000 qualified teachers with recognized education degrees in Hong Kong are not entitled to equal pay because the Education Bureau has capped the ratio of graduate posts in each public or publicly funded school.
There have been demands to relax the limit but they have fallen on deaf ears.
As a result, many qualified teachers have become “second class” teachers.
They are equally qualified and are doing the same amount of work as their post-graduate colleagues but are paid much less.
This disparity is a blow to the morale of frontline educators and a polarizing issue.
Kindergarten teachers are not spared either.
The latest reform proposal has again failed to address their demands for a master pay scale.
Also, there is no long-term plan to develop pre-school education. This is a ticking time bomb.
The education policy is unpopular with teachers and out of touch with reality because it was put together behind closed doors — no input from stakeholders.
Finally, I have a question for Secretary for Education Eddie Ng: How much do you really understand the views and needs of our teachers?
This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on Nov. 27.
Translation by Alan Lee
[Chinese version 中文版]
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