NET’s in Hong Kong and the economy of "native speakers"

The Standard, the newspaper that bills itself as “China’s Business Newspaper,” ran an article today, “Gratuity raise aims to halt NET exodus.” The article says that NET’s, Native English Teachers, are leaving the country in droves, because of the devaluation of the Hong Kong dollar, and a general reduction in wages that happened in 2004. The whole senario begs several different ethical and professional issues.

First the article says that 47% of the teachers refused to renew their contracts at the end of that last school year, and that these contracts, “…are usually for two years.” If the aim of the program is to recruit loyal teachers to educate young people, why are the contracts for two years? If the employment system of Hong Kong is similar to that of Japan, and I don’t know that it is, then NET’s are hired for two years while their Japanese, or in this case Chinese counterparts are given employment until they retire. This issue is not addressed in the article, but it makes me wonder why the foreigners are hopping on airplanes and their Chinese colleagues are not.

Another reason they may not be able to retain qualified teachers is because they are not invested in the system.
Hui explained that since NETs could not be promoted to senior ranks, it was necessary to provide them with more incentives to continue working in Hong Kong. “Some of the NET teachers have been working in Hong Kong since 1998. There is no incentive for them to continue working here,” he said.

Cannot be promoted to senior ranks? Sounds like Japan’s JET program. There is no promotion here either. The non-Japanese teachers exist in a personnel limbo where they are covered neither by civil servant labor laws or private entity labor laws. They cannot be promoted based on their employment records, and their necks are on the block after two years. At least it sounds like the Hong Kong system is working to build in some incentives to stay.

I am sorry that this system exists, where certain nationalities (and not others) are considered to be professional qualifications. As for teachers leaving for higher wages, that can’t really be helped. Workers often move to where more lucrative wages are available. I heard a story on the news this morning about how digital animators in India are being paid well, so workers are flocking to that field. I am not sure, however, that making language teachers into migrant laborers actually works in the best intersts of the learners who are supposed to be served. It is a shame that instead of helping qualified professionals invest themselves in a community, governments scurry around adjusting salary levels enough to be competitive, but not enough to draw the ire of tax payers. If governments worked at developing a dedicated, loyal pool of professionals who are invested in their communities, the issues of currency values would instantly be moot. These people would be home, and their wages would be worth just as much as their colleagues and their neighbors. Instead they aim at the lowest common discriminatory denominator.

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