Teacher Shortage

Measures to Solve Teacher Shortage

Implications for Hong Kong



Web linkage


Implications for Hong Kong                                            

a.          Overall teacher supply

In England, maintaining an adequate supply of teachers has been a major policy concern during periods of severe shortage. On the surface, it may appear that the teacher shortage problem is not as acute in Hong Kong as in England. However, this is because unqualified teachers are still allowed to teach in Hong Kong as ¡§permitted teachers,¡¨ thus the problem of teacher shortage has not surfaced to catch enough attention.

When the Chief Executive (CE) announced the policy objective of having an all trained and all graduate requirement for new teachers in the foreseeable future in 1997, the issue of maintaining an adequacy of supply of qualified teachers was brought to the forefront. This led to recommendations by a University Grants Committee review panel (UGC, 1998) to increase the provision of pre-service teacher education places in higher education institutions, which have not been heeded by the government. Four years after the CE¡¦s announcement, the government has hitherto not set a target date of achieving the policy objective, and Hong Kong has still depended its supply of teachers on unqualified teachers (Lai, Ko, & Li, 2001, see also Appendices C & D).

If examined closely, there has also been a significant shortage of subject-trained teachers for a number of school subjects. The ¡§hidden¡¨ shortage in trained English Language teachers has recently surfaced with the introduction of the language proficiency requirements for teachers, which we will further discuss in the following section. 

b.     Shortage of subject-trained teachers for certain subjects           Up

England has witnessed teacher shortage in a number of school subjects, including mathematics, science, technology and modern foreign languages in secondary schools. As introduced in previous sections, measures adopted to solve this problem include provision of flexible programmes, such as the two-year PGCE conversion courses and employment-based programmes (see Section 3.a.i.), and financial incentives for students being trained in shortage subjects (see Section 3.a.ii).

In Hong Kong, according to the Teacher Statistics (Education Department, 2001), over 40% of the English teachers in primary schools are non-subject-trained. In addition, shortage subjects at the secondary level included computer studies, ethical/ religious studies, Chinese history, civic education, economics and public affairs, economics, and information technology (Appendices E & F).

The shortage of subject-trained teachers in English language has received the most attention. In spite of significant increases in the past few years, the percentage of English subject-trained teachers was only 77.3 at the secondary level and 55.3 at the primary level in the year 2000 (Education Department, 2001). This may have partly explained the strong resistance by many teachers to the recently introduced Language Proficiency Assessment for Teachers (LPAT).

While the government asserts that the intention of the LPAT is to raise the standards of English language teachers, like similar tests in England, it has become a complicated issue affecting the morale of English teachers in Hong Kong. In addition, there are worrying signs that the percentage of subject-trained English teachers may actually decrease as a result of the LPAT. For instance, a newspaper article (Wan, 2001) reported that more English teachers, 321 in total, or 7%, left their posts in 2000, which was a reversal to the falling trend in the wastage rate of English teachers in the past few years (from 10.5% in 1996 to 5.8% in 1999). The article warned that the situation will get worse in the coming years and there may be an increasing shortage of English teachers.

The question of how many university graduates with English majors will consider teaching as a career remains uncertain. In addition, there is a foreseeable shortage in English teachers at least in the coming few years with the removal of the English subject elective in the CE courses in the HKIEd. It appears that the new English major graduates in the new BEd programmes will not be sufficient to meet the demand for qualified English teachers in the future.  

Compared with England, measures taken by the government to remedy the situation have been fairly conventional and conservative. For example, the government plans to fund additional PGCE places for English teachers in the coming few years, without adequate considerations of whether there will be an adequate number of qualified graduates interested in becoming English teachers.

The Institute has proposed to the government that a possible way to increase trained teachers in subjects of teacher shortage is to recruit university graduates with degrees not directly related to the shortage subjects. Based on the model in England, two-year full-time PGCE programmes can be offered to graduates with good English proficiency, such as those in law, accounting, and journalism, who wish to take up English teaching in schools. Taking quality candidates from other disciplines may also add talent, strength and creativity to the teaching profession. 

Based on the English model, providing financial incentives to attract qualified graduates and retain serving English language teachers can also be considered. However, whether such measures would help alleviate the shortage in the long term is too early to judge at the moment. As the experience in England suggests, the key issue also appears to be raising the morale among language teachers, which has not been helped with frequent media criticism of the declining English standards of teachers, including their allegedly ¡§poor¡¨ performance in the recent LPAT examination. 

c.      Recruiting teachers from overseas                                       Up

Recruiting teachers from overseas has been a measure adopted by the UK (see Section 3.a.iv.). This was not entirely a new concept to Hong Kong. Before the seventies, many grant schools in Hong Kong did employ a lot of overseas teachers. In addition, with the recommendation of ECR5 in 1992, a Non-graduate Teacher Qualifications Assessment Scheme (NGQTA) was launched to enroll non-commonwealth teachers for local schools. Likewise, native-speaking English teachers (NET) have been employed to teach English in our schools, though its purpose is to enable students to be in contact with native speakers of the language, and less of a solution to teacher shortage. 

Apart from recruiting English language teachers from overseas, mainland China may prove to be a possible source of teacher supply for local schools in certain shortage subjects, such as Putonghua.  

However, as in any labour importation scheme, there are political and educational issues the government and teacher unions have to face.  For example, the General Teaching Council for England has maintained that there is a need to balance recruitment of teachers from abroad with adequate numbers of teachers in England.  It is likely that similar concerns  will be raised by teacher unions in Hong Kong. In addition, there is also a moral concern of wealthier countries/regions solving their teacher shortages through hiring teachers from developing nations which are already facing an impending crisis in teacher shortages of their own.

d.     Financial incentives to attract new teachers and retain serving
        teachers                                                                                     Up

In Section 3.a.ii, we report numerous financial incentives that the English government has adopted to attract graduates to join the teaching force and to retain serving teachers. These include those specifically targeted at shortage subjects and talented teacher trainees, as well as measures to retain key serving staff.

With the demanding education reforms in Hong Kong, it will be necessary for the government to provide incentives to attract quality graduates to join the teaching profession and to increase the retention of quality serving teachers. A more fundamental strategy, however, is to reform the existing teacher compensation system to reward teachers based on performance and responsibilities.

Preferential treatment for subject teachers with severe shortage problems, or providing special allowances or bonuses to ¡§elite¡¨ teachers may help to attract or retain quality teachers which are in demand. However, such a policy has its potential divisiveness.  Creating different pay scales according to these criteria is new to Hong Kong, and may create concern of fairness or equal treatment among teacher unions.

Apart from financial incentives, the experience in England has consistently reminded us the need to raise the status of the teaching profession and improve the morale of the teachers.  Teachers in both places appear to be overwhelmed by too much paperwork and the struggle to cope with over-hasty changes brought by education and curriculum reforms.

e.     Increasing retention through strengthening induction and
        continuous professional development                                       Up      

An important aspect to alleviate the teacher shortage problem is to ensure qualified teachers joining the profession will stay. This includes establishing effective induction systems to help the novice teachers integrate into schools.  As pointed out in Section 3.b.i., the experience of the first couple of years¡¦ teaching experience can be a decisive factor whether the novice teacher wants to stay in the profession. 

Our UK counterpart has proposed a more systematic CPD and support to novice teachers. The UK experience has informed us that setting up a system, with monetary or workload reduction incentive may involve effectively more experienced senior teachers to be mentors, helping the new teachers to settle in and develop further. For Hong Kong, despite the ECR5 first addressed teacher induction to be developed in schools to support new teachers, the system has not yet been well developed. A possible measure is for teacher education providers to expand their existing mentoring schemes for student teachers to an established system supporting novice teachers. However, this will also have resource implications.

On continuous professional development, there has been hitherto no systematic requirement for Hong Kong teachers to be engaged in professional development programmes after they have obtained their QTS. The Education Department is developing a framework for teacher development in the form of a career ladder. A framework which supports teacher development and linked to teacher compensation would be very useful to support teachers and attract more quality teachers to remain in the profession.

[ Foreword ] [ Preface ] [ Background ] [ Teacher Shortage ] [ Measures to Solve Teacher Shortage ] [ Implications for Hong Kong ] [ Conclusion ] [ Reference ] [ Web Linkage ][Appendixes]

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