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Hong Kong educators have called for further details about a new plan to require more teachers to pass a test on the city’s mini-constitution, including whether the proposal applies to native English speakers.
Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor unveiled the measure in her annual policy blueprint on Wednesday, saying teachers who were fresh graduates or changing jobs would have to take an exam on the Basic Law before they started teaching at Hong Kong’s hundreds of government-subsidised schools before the next academic year began.
Teachers employed as civil servants in the city’s dozens of public schools already have to pass such a test.
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Lam also revealed she had told the education minister she was willing to give a class to teachers on the constitutional status, powers and functions of the chief executive, as part of a wider plan to strengthen instruction relating to the Basic Law.
“The Education Bureau [must] safeguard the well-being of students by effectively monitoring and following up on any issues that involve school management and the conduct of teachers, with a view to restoring Hong Kong’s educational order,” she said.
The plans are part of education authorities’ efforts requiring stricter professional conduct following complaints lodged against hundreds of teachers during and since the 2019 anti-government protests, including over their remarks on social media.
According to figures released last month, the Education Bureau had investigated 269 complaints of teacher professional misconduct received between June 2019 and December last year. It found 167 of them valid, and disciplined 178 teachers.
At least three educators have been stripped of their registration for life, including one accused by the bureau of “promoting” independence in class, and another for giving students inaccurate information on the first opium war between Britain and China from 1839 to 1842.
The bureau said recently that two of those teachers – who were being assisted by the now defunct Professional Teachers’ Union in arguing that the punishment was disproportionate – had notified authorities they were withdrawing their appeals.
Three educators who spoke to the Post said that they understood the government’s decision to require more teachers to take the Basic Law test – currently a 20-minute, bilingual quiz with 15 multiple-choice questions aimed at “assessing candidates’ knowledge of the law”. However, they added, many questions remained unanswered.
“I think having the test for [new teachers] is OK,” said Chu Wai-lam, principal of Fung Kai No 1 Primary School and vice-chairman of the New Territories School Heads Association.
“Since civil servants already need to take the test, teachers at subsidised schools, who are also receiving their salaries from public money, also need to [learn about the law] in terms of gaining knowledge about their citizenship and national identity.”
But Chu wondered whether there was enough time for teachers to take and pass the test before they start teaching next September next year, adding that the bureau should “make appropriate arrangements” to minimise any impacts on schools.
A principal at a subsidised secondary school also said requiring teachers to take the test was “acceptable”, but urged officials to offer more details on the level of difficulty and whether native English-speaking teachers – many of whom are not native Hongkongers – would also need to take part.
Both the principal and Chu said education officials should offer more flexibility for foreign teachers, including looking into whether they could take an “easier” version of the exam.
A government source said they expected more details on the test to be released later this year, adding that the format was likely to be similar to the existing one, though they did not say whether there would be any special arrangements for English speakers.
The source added that the government “would not rule out” also asking teachers at semi-private schools under the Direct Subsidy Scheme to take the tests, although that would not happen by the next academic year.
The Education Bureau also plans to release a new set of guidelines on teachers’ professional conduct – the first one to be released by the government. They are expected to offer “clearer” guidance for educators, along with examples of cases in which teachers were disciplined, on top of current recommendations issued by the statutory Council on Professional Conduct in Education.
Separately, education officials are also expected to hold inspections at schools in the coming months to follow up on the implementation of new modules relating to the Beijing-imposed national security law, and to provide more training for teachers on the topic.
Schools and universities are required to promote national security education on campus under the sweeping law, which came into effect in June last year and bans acts of secession, subversion, terrorism and collusion with foreign forces.