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By ITS Education Asia

In 1997, as Hong Kong was handed back to China, there were any number of changes being made. One of them was to the medium of instruction in local schools, which had, until this time, been mostly English.  To keep in line with the policy in Mainland China, Chinese became the medium of instruction in the majority of local schools.  In the Mainland, Mandarin is the medium but here in Hong Kong, Chinese medium means Cantonese.

Native English teacher This was accompanied by a great deal of research, identifying the educational benefits for mother-tongue education. It was, however, also accompanied by an outcry from the business community about the possibility of English standards falling if English was phased out as the medium of education. As a way to redress this, and to assure the business leaders, the government proposed a scheme, modeled on one which had been used on a smaller scale several years earlier, which would give an expatriate teacher to each secondary school. Thus the Native-speaking English Teachers’ scheme was established and began at the beginning of the 1998 academic year. It was expanded to include primary schools a few years later.

Hong Kong Flag NETs are usually centrally recruited by the Education and Manpower Bureau and they are also funded by the EMB. However, the employment contract a NET signs is with an individual school or education funding body so there does appear to be considerable differences among NETs in terms of the way they are deployed in schools and the sort of working load they are required to undertake. It should, of course, be remembered that there is a large degree of difference among local schools generally, due to the banding system, so it does make sense that not all NETs can be deployed in exactly the same way.

Local students have an English oral lesson each week, and there is also an English oral exam each term.  For this reason, it was common practice for the NETs to be given oral English to teach.  Some NETs found this load a bit repetitive and boring, and have moved to being English class teachers, responsible for teaching all aspects of the language instead of just oral.  However, in other schools, NETs have kept their oral loads.  NETs are also usually responsible for a range of extra-curricula activities which are conducted to promote English.  These might include drama and debating clubs, the English Society as well as preparing students for the English Speech Festival.  Preparation for a range of oral and speaking exams are also usually done by NETs.

There has been items in the local press, from time to time, offering anecdotal evidence about the success of the scheme.  There have also been press reports about some of the difficulties of having upwards of 1000 foreigners working at close quarters within the local education system.  Issues about pay and conditions have been raised and also about the contract NETs have with their employers.  Some of these issues have been dealt with effectively by the EMB while other issues are still to be solved successfully.

It is true that a NET can have a presence in a school which is beneficial to the local students.  It should also be remembered that NETs have an opportunity to provide an authentic English language environment for their colleagues to interact in.  English is normally not spoken routinely around the staff room but this situation might be addressed a little with the presence of a NET.

It is the case that students in a local school do not have the same contact with Native English speakers as those at an international school would.  However, by establishing the NET scheme, the government is trying to give local students the chance to interact, even to a limited degree, with a foreigner.

Dulwich College Singapore

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