THOUSANDS of teachers from the West are being drawn to teach in the Far East, where the English language is seen as vital to competing in the global economy.
More than 1,200 teachers have applied for the 100 secondary posts on Hong Kong's "Native English-speaking Teacher" (NET) scheme in the past two months, attracted by salaries of up to pound;40,000 a year plus special allowances. Britain is the second-largest source of teachers after Australia, with 235 applicants.
The former British colony is now extending the scheme to the primary sector and is looking for 400 more recruits. It aims to have one NET teacher for every two primaries from September and ultimately one for each school, as is the case in the secondary sector.
Hong Kong has been forced to moderate its recruitment ambitions because of the fierce competition for good quality English-speaking teachers, particularly from Japan and mainland China, and global teacher shortages.
However, a recent report from the education department revealed that 30 per cent of Hong Kong's NETs will leave when their current contracts expire in August.
NETs, particularly those who teach the less able, often complain of having to deal with poorly motivated students with minimal English skills, despite having been taught the language since the age of three. They are also frustrated at often being confined to oral teaching, dislike the exam-driven nature of schooling, and can feel isolated. "I felt very alone because there was nobody to work with. The local teachers were very busy and they didn't really have time to talk to me," said Haydn Milford, a former NET teacher from New Zealand who recently quit.
The education department said overseas primary staff will bring in more effective teaching methods, and help train colleagues. To avoid the shortcomings of the secondary scheme in the primary initiative, a central team of 20 NETs and 20 seconded local English teachers will support them.
Demand for English teachers is also mounting in mainland China, spurred by the country's entry to the World Trade Organisation and by plans among universities to introduce bilingual education in some subjects, though salaries are relatively low.
In Japan, the overseas teacher scheme has some 6,000 language staff on its books, including some 1,400 from Britain. Most work as assistants to a local teacher. The country also intends to experiment with English-medium instruction.