Standards for entering the teaching profession in Hong Kong are slowly becoming more rigorous. Prior to the mid-1990s, primary school teaching was regarded as a career for non-degree holders, and students fresh out of upper secondary schools could complete a two- or three-year sub-degree level program and immediately enter the classroom. The reforms of the mid to late-90s meant that primary school teachers are now required to hold a bachelor’s degree. Despite this move towards greater selectivity and the fact that teaching is now considered a well-respected profession, attracting top recruits into teaching is still a major focus of Hong Kong education leaders. In 2007, the University of Hong Kong reported that the secondary school grades of teachers admitted to the education program were still lower than those admitted in other fields.
Recruitment and Compensation
To gain admission to a teacher education program, candidates are assessed on their knowledge of various subjects through practical tests, and typically must undergo at least one interview to assess aptitude for teaching and fluency in both English and Chinese. Each institution offering a teacher education program sets their own admissions requirements for their programs. However, to help raise the quality of young people entering teaching, the Education Bureau (EDB) is becoming increasingly involved in teacher education, producing guidelines and standards that all new and existing teachers must meet. In order to be hired as a teacher, a candidate must apply for registration at the EDB. They are either granted “qualified teacher” status (for candidates who have completed teacher training), which allows them to teach in any subject area, or “permitted teacher” status, for candidates who have met the minimum education requirements but do not have formal teacher training. Permitted teachers may become qualified teachers after completing in-service training. Neither type of candidate is required to pass a test in order to become registered.
Hong Kong’s efforts to standardize and improve teacher training and qualifications has been successful. Unlike just 20 years ago, the majority of teachers at both the primary and secondary levels have a bachelor’s degree or higher: 75% at the primary level, and 92% at the secondary level. Also, the majority now have also completed official teacher training.
Throughout their careers, teachers’ salaries reflect their level of experience and education as well as their performance, and are assessed by school administrators before being approved by the Education Bureau (EDB). Teachers’ salaries are commensurate with those of other professional positions in Hong Kong. The government is now in the process of imposing a salary cap on teachers who refuse to undergo government-mandated professional training in their first five years of service.
The OECD does not yet report data on Hong Kong teachers’ salaries. However, the International Association for the Evaluation of Educational Achievement’s Teacher Education and Development Study in Mathematics (TEDS-M) provides information on the salaries of teachers who earned post-secondary qualifications in math and science. In 2001, male teachers between the ages of 20 and 24 earned $1637 a month; this salary increased to $5756 a month for male teachers between the ages of 45-54. These numbers were lower for female teachers in the youngest age range ($1,311), but higher for female teachers between the ages of 45-54 ($7,561).
Initial Education and Training
Prior to the reforms of the last decade, teacher training was not highly regulated in Hong Kong, nor were the education requirements particularly high. Primary and lower secondary teachers were educated in two- or three-year sub-degree-level programs at government-run Colleges of Education, while upper secondary teachers typically completed a postgraduate diploma after finishing university education. However, in the mid-1990s, the Colleges of Education joined, forming the Hong Kong Institute of Education, which grants both bachelor’s degrees and postgraduate diplomas. Teacher candidates are now educated either at one of three comprehensive universities, or the Open University of Hong Kong, or the Institute of Education. Teachers may also become qualified through the Non-Graduate Teacher Qualifications Assessment, intended for candidates who enter teaching later in their careers. The Education Bureau (EDB) does not want to close qualified candidates out of the teaching field or discourage them from becoming teachers through specific training requirements. In conjunction with the shift in teacher education opportunities, the Education Commission has increased the education requirements for teachers at both the primary and secondary levels. Since the 2004-05 school year, all teachers are required to hold post-secondary degrees. In addition to subject-based learning, teachers are also expected to leave the program with several skills crucial to running a successful classroom, including good communication skills; a positive attitude toward teaching, learning and working with other people; sociability; physical and psychological well-being; and assertiveness, flexibility and adaptability. There is a clear emphasis on understanding student needs in addition to subject and curriculum mastery.
International Association for the Evaluation of Educational Achievement. (2009). Do Countries Paying Teachers Higher Relative Salaries Have Higher Student Mathematics Achievement? – The report examines how mathematics teachers are paid in 20 countries, and also provides an overview of how teachers are trained and recruited. Hong Kong is included; see page 97. (PDF)
Consortium for Policy Research in Education. (2007). A Comparative Study of Teacher Preparation and Qualifications in Six Nations. – Ingersoll provides an indepth analysis of teacher training and teacher demographics in six Asian economies, including Hong Kong (page 29). (PDF)
Teachers’ career prospects depend on which pathway into teaching they take. A teacher who holds a teacher’s certificate or the status of a qualified teacher based on their performance on the Non-Graduate Teacher Qualifications Assessment may be promoted to the level of Assistant Principal once he or she possesses the appropriate experience (typically several years of teaching followed by several years of experience as a head teacher) and any necessary additional training. A teacher with a post-graduate diploma in education may ultimately be promoted to the position of Headmaster or Headmistress following appropriate job experience and training. Because salary levels in the education system are relatively rigid, principals use promotion as the primary incentive to ensure teacher performance.
Formal professional development courses are offered through the Hong Kong Institute of Education, the Hong Kong Baptist University, the Chinese University of Hong Kong and the University of Hong Kong. These courses range from short, in-service education programs to longer post-graduate degree programs. However, there are no hard and fast requirements for teacher professional development. The Education Bureau (EDB) encourages teachers to improve their practice through “professional development activities” for an official target of 50 hours per year. The EDB reported that in the 2001-02 school year, 80% of teachers polled reported engaging in some kind of professional development, and 60% of the respondents had reported doing professional development activities for 50 hours or more. The Advisory Committee on Teacher Education and Qualifications (ACTEQ) is currently in the process of establishing a Teacher Competencies Framework (TCF) that individual schools will be able to use as a “map” while formulating their own frameworks based on the needs of their teachers and students.
The EDB has also established three voluntary “staff interflow schemes,” which are intended to provide professional development through collaboration and exposure to other career pathways. Teachers may temporarily transfer to the EDB, EDB employees may take temporary non-teaching positions in schools, and people in different roles and positions in the EDB may also apply for a temporary transfer within the EDP. The EDB hopes that this interflow will increase collaboration between schools and the EDB, give teachers and EDB officers a better understanding of the other’s role in the education system, and promote the development of new ideas through new perspectives.