SCMP Tuesday, July 3, 2001


'Fed-up' English teachers quit

EXCLUSIVE by CYNTHIA WAN

More English-language teachers quit their jobs last year than at any time in the past four years, partly because of unhappiness over the controversial benchmark test, critics of the exam said yesterday.
They warned the situation would worsen in coming years and create an increasing shortage of English teachers as their anger at being subjected to the tests increased.
A government review was now looking into the possibility of raising the salary and status of English-language teachers to try to stem the exodus, a top government adviser on language education told the South China Morning Post.
A total of 321 English-language teachers at secondary schools left their posts last year, accounting for seven per cent of English teachers, according to Education Department statistics.
The rise comes after a steady fall in departures over the past few years, from 10.5 per cent in 1996 to 9.2 per cent in 1997, 6.3 per cent in 1998 and 5.8 per cent in 1999.
Legislator Cheung Man-kwong, who represents the education sector and is president of the 75,000-strong Professional Teachers' Union, said: "Some of them are quitting because they are dissatisfied with the policy on benchmark testing. The worst has yet to come, because more and more teachers will be fed up with it."
Grace Tsui Wai-chuen, chairman of the Secondary School English Teachers' Association, said: "I've heard stories that some are quitting because their principals kept urging them to sit the test to see if they're up to standard."
The shortage would not ease in the near future with the limited supply of graduates trained both in English and education, said Michael Tien Puk-sun, chairman of the Standing Committee on Language Education and Research.
"In the long run, we have to train our own English-language teachers rather than rely on importing native speakers. But it's true that the problem will be around for a while as not too many local universities are offering the courses," Mr Tien said.
The review on language education by his committee - an advisory body on language education policies - is expected to be finished in one year.
The Education Department rejected claims the benchmark test had driven some English-teachers away. "The wastage rate is affected by many factors based on supply and demand in society," a spokesman said.
Of 413 candidates, including 141 serving teachers, who sat the benchmark test in March, two-thirds failed in the writing assessment and half in the oral part.