HONG KONG – For his last class in Hong Kong in July, liberal studies professor Fong showed his students the calligraphy of the late Democratic activist from the territory Szeto Wah: âChoose the right path and stick to it. He emigrated to Great Britain a few days later.
Fong is one of many teachers who left Hong Kong before the start of the school year in September, with some saying they felt disillusioned and threatened by the authoritarian turn the city has taken since Beijing imposed a law. strict on national security in June 2020.
âThe day I quit, I said to my school, ‘If one day students downstairs chant slogans, I should call the police to arrest my own students,â said Fong, 45, who asked to be identified. by one name for fear of attracting the attention of the authorities. “I couldn’t do that. And I couldn’t hold back my tears.
Several principals said teachers were leaving this year at about twice the regular rate, leaving some of them scrambling for new hires.
The Hong Kong Secondary School Principals Association (HKAHSS) warned the government in July that it would cause a “brain drain” that would reduce the quality of education in the city. About 700,000 students attend about 1,000 primary and secondary schools in Hong Kong.
âThe educational environment as well as the atmosphere has changed dramatically over the past two years,â said Samuel Cheng, Principal of United Christian College – Kowloon East. âPeople are moved by their friends and colleagues who have left, so I have to at least help them settle down emotionally. I have to stabilize the school.
In response to questions, the Hong Kong Bureau of Education said teachers may have left the profession to pursue other jobs or studies, or for other personal reasons, and did not address the issue. of the brain drain. He said the National Security Law does not affect the education sector or the quality of teaching.
“The allegation of the so-called outgoing teachers is completely biased and unfounded in evidence,” the EDB said in a statement. âIt is inherently misleading and statistically biased to view the opinions of these individual teachers as representative of education professionals in general. “
National Security Course
It is impossible to determine how many of the nearly 60,000 teachers in the former British colony left this summer, or plan to leave this year. The figures on the employment of teachers for this school year collected by the EDB are not yet available.
The Professional Teachers’ Union (PTU), which was Hong Kong’s largest union before its dissolution this month, said in May that 40% of teachers surveyed wanted to leave the education sector.
Some have emigrated, although Hong Kong does not publish information on the number of people leaving the territory or their occupation.
Britain, Canada and other countries have said tens of thousands of Hong Kong people have emigrated in the past year, out of a total population of 7.5 million.
One of them was Grace Kwok, a 33-year-old music teacher who moved to Britain in January. She said some parents complained to her principal after she told the students that Tian Han, who wrote the lyrics for the Chinese national anthem, “March of the Volunteers,” died in prison during the Cultural Revolution. of Mao Zedong in the 1960s.
âI don’t want to teach my students values ââthat I don’t believe in,â Kwok said. âI don’t want to be in danger.
The education system has become a key target in a broader plan by the Chinese leadership to reform Hong Kong’s rebel youth after the often violent pro-democracy protests of 2019.
Nearly 20% of the more than 10,000 people arrested during the protests were of school age. Around 100 teachers and school staff were also arrested, according to the city’s education secretary.
In February, Hong Kong introduced new educational guidelines ensuring that children as young as 6 learn more about China and learn about the National Security Law, which renders any act that Beijing considers secession, subversion. , terrorism or collusion with foreign forces punishable by up to life imprisonment.
The EDB replaced the subject of liberal studies – which it introduced in 2009 to increase social involvement and develop critical thinking – with a smaller module called âCitizenship and Social Developmentâ which focuses on patriotism.
References to the bloody 1989 crackdown on protesters in and around Tiananmen Square in Beijing and the “Umbrella Movement” protests in Hong Kong in 2014 have been removed from textbooks viewed by Reuters, along with other events in favor of democracy.
Hong Kong chief executive Carrie Lam said last year that teachers who were “bad apples” should be removed from the education system. The EDB said it received 269 teacher malpractice complaints from June 2019 to December 2020. It did not provide any details on the complaints.
Under pressure from the authorities, the PTU officially dissolved earlier this month. The Hong Kong government had previously severed ties with the 95,000-member union, which Chinese state media described as a “toxic tumor.”
School principals jostle
The EDB said that 4% to 5% of elementary and secondary school teachers have dropped out every year for the past four years. He has no data for the school year that has just started.
Some principals have said that teacher turnover this summer is much higher than that. Dion Chen, chairman of the Hong Kong Direct Subsidy Scheme Schools Council, said many schools have had five or six teacher resignations, with some reporting 15 to 20, more than in previous years. Not all were caused by emigration, he said, but the departures triggered a “musical chair effect” of teachers changing jobs.
Tai Tak Ching, who retired as head of the Wan Chai District Directors’ Conference in August, estimated five to seven quits per school, compared to just two or three in recent years.
Polly Chan, vice president of the Hong Kong Aided Primary School Heads Council, said four teachers from her Yaumati – Hoi Wang Road Catholic Primary School have emigrated and she had to replace a total of 10 teachers over the summer . Chan said the higher turnover was caused by “the pandemic, more social unrest, more political reasons.” She said emigration only became a major factor this year.
Cheng of United Christian College – Kowloon East said he had to replace 14 of his 80 teachers this summer: nine emigrated, four changed schools and one retired. He said he had never had to replace more than three or four before.
Most of those who left had been teaching at the school for more than 15 years, he said, but some of their replacements lacked the postgraduate degree required to fully qualify as a teacher, what Cheng called a “compromise”.
Cheng said he brought in a retired teacher to guide one of the new hires, hired an outside company to help the new Japanese teacher, and assigned in-house mentors for the rest of the new staff. He said he expects the “big burden” of emigration to last another two or three years.
âThe education sector is taking a hit because experienced people are leaving en masse,â former PTU chairman Fung Wai-wah said before the union was dissolved.
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