To strengthen the English standard of secondary and primary students, the government started the Native-speaking English Teacher (NET) Scheme in the school year 1998/99 and 2002/03 in public secondary and primary schools respectively. Every public primary and secondary school of no less than six classes would be given a NET post. According to government information, the budgets for the scheme in the financial year 2014/15 are HK$356.3 million and HK$390.3 million respectively for primary and secondary schools, a total of over HK$700 million of recurrent expenditure. Because of the large amount of funds involved, reviews and revisions should be made on the NET scheme to ensure the money is properly used and can benefit the students genuinely. Therefore, in order for the Legislative Council and the government to investigate on how the scheme can be improved, before the discussion of such matter in the Education Panel of the Legislative Council, a questionnaire was distributed to all school principals, subject heads of English and NETs in all Hong Kong primary and secondary schools to collect opinions from principals and frontline teachers.
The questionnaire was distributed via fax to all primary and secondary schools in Hong Kong. Replies were collected from 59 secondary school principals, 54 primary school principals, 45 subject heads from secondary schools, 74 subject heads from primary schools, 90 secondary NETs and 107 primary NETs, a response rate ranging from 11% to 23.3%. Among the replies, the satisfaction rates of the scheme from primary and secondary principals are 67% and 77% respectively, and 89% and 63% respectively from primary and secondary subject panel heads. It can be seen that the majority of the interviewed principals and subject heads are satisfied with the scheme. However, they have also expressed some difficulties with the operation of the scheme and placed relevant suggestions to the scheme. A lot of principals and subject heads point out that, due to language and cultural differences, it is unsatisfactory for NETs to perform duties of guidance and counselling for students. Other than that, some of the NETs are not integrating well into the atmosphere of Hong Kong schools. NETs need time to understand the difference between Hong Kong and foreign education systems, and to re-understand the learning of students, especially on how to take care of those who are weaker and some of those with special educational needs (SEN). This is why they cannot cooperate and integrate into the current teaching practice of the schools.
On the other hand, the NETs have also expressed their opinions on the scheme. From which, the largest problem faced by the NETs was said to be cultural difference, including the exam-based learning environment in Hong Kong, which is taking more time for them to settle. They also think that it is difficult to integrate the NET program into the local curriculum due to the overwhelming amount of assessments, including the excessive emphasis on the Territory-wide System Assessment (TSA), and so it is difficult to balance the use of multiple teaching methods and examination-focused drills. In addition, the NETs expressed that there is not enough opportunity to make contact with students, and fail to further improve the English standard of students.
In my opinion, to solve the above problems, authorities should get the NETs to further understand the culture and the working environment of local schools, to help them integrate into the atmosphere of local schools. In order to improve the quality of the scheme, authorities should also promote experience sharing and exchange between schools to demonstrate good examples of the NET scheme for reference.
The NET scheme is only one of the methods for improving the English standard of students. In my opinion, on top of reviewing the NET scheme, there should also be an overall review of the different measures of improving students’ English. In-depth discussion of feasible plans and methods for improving English ability of students should also be made in order to benefit the students.