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No freedom for British 'agents of change'

HONG KONG

British and other foreign teachers are being lured to Hong Kong with false expectations of their role and working conditions, a group offering legal protection to foreign teachers has warned.

Mark Aldred, spokesman of the Expatriate Teachers Association (ETA), issued a warning on a teachers' e-forum. "We would ask people to think long and hard before coming here," he wrote.

They should resolve contract issues and employment conditions first, though he says the group is not calling for a boycott.

Under the Native English-speaking Teachers (Net) scheme launched in 1998, each publicly-funded secondary school and pairs of primary schools can employ a teacher from overseas to raise English standards and develop good practice. One in six applications for the 800 posts is from Britain.

But once in the job many complain that rather than being "agents of change", as they were led to expect, they are forced to adopt local methods, teaching to the textbook and exam, Mr Aldred said.

"In most cases, particularly in low band schools (for low achievers), neither the textbooks nor exams are remotely relevant. You are teaching classes who know they are going to fail," he said.

Mr Aldred, who has taught on the Net scheme for three years, warned that contracts vary between schools and principals may withhold salary increases and gratuities if they deem the Net's performance unsatisfactory. Some heads had used this power to bully teachers, he said.

Chris Wardlaw, deputy secretary of education and responsible for the Net scheme, said that the vast majority of Nets have a professionally rewarding experience. "Three out of four wish to renew their contracts and we have a queue of Nets wanting to come to Hong Kong. It can't be that bad," he said.

But Pamela Young, a former Net teacher from Caerphilly, Wales, who quit her job at the end of last term, said that though teachers were well paid, the Hong Kong government had failed to develop adequate support for the programme.

"So many Nets are hated within their schools because they come with ideas, they are different and they are also perceived to be arrogant. There is a huge resentment.

"My principal told me I had to become a local teacher, but I was recruited to be an agent of change. I felt abused professionally."

Australian teacher Luana Hasell, who has enjoyed teaching at HKMA KS Lo College, said: "The Net scheme has been described as a lottery. It is, and I won. But others got stuck in places where just existing is difficult.

They are not spoken to and they are not helped."

ETA's website can be found at www.offedge.neteta

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