“Submit or quit” Brain depletion is a problem for Hong Kong schools

The latest figures from the government reveal that over 4,000 educators quit their positions in the previous school year, which is a record for the five years and a 70 percent increase from the previous year.

Hong Kong, China: As Hong Kong students return for the start of their academic year, a seasoned educator Wong is counting his days before the current political tumult that is sweeping the city leaves him with no option but to leave.

Wong 34, he is concerned that he’ll soon join the student and teacher exodus caused by Beijing’s tightening grip in Hong Kong, which has been transforming schools in the area according to a number of educators.

Recent government figures reveal that more than 4,000 teachers quit their posts in the last school year. This is a record for the five years and a 70% increase over the previous year.

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“I have no faith in the future of Hong Kong or that of the industry. It is hard to nurture a person in this environment,” Wong, who requested to use only his first name said to AFP.

The political crackdown coincides with the outbreak of coronavirus in which Hong Kong has kept strict no-Covid laws that have fueled more deviations.

Students have withdrawn from schools in a flurry and 30,000 less students attending secondary and primary school in September 2021 as compared to the previous October.

Wong who has taught for over 10 years, revealed that five students in the class of his 32 students resigned at the end of a term in order to leave the country.

“The students are leaving not because they dislike the school, but because of Hong Kong’s environment.”

Classrooms that are patriotic

China is now remaking once outspoken Hong Kong in its own authoritative image, after large and sometimes violent democratic protests that took place in 2019, during which young people played an integral role.

Teachers have been instructed to teach patriotism to students and adhere to the Beijing-imposed law on national security which has criminalised opposition.

Curriculums are being redesigned to better align to Chinese Communist Party ideology.

Teachers were instructed earlier this month to “study and learn the key messages” from the speech given by the president Xi Jinping.

Parents and children have been urged to inform teachers who are in violation of the security laws.

Wong received an reprimand letter by Hong Kong’s Education Bureau last year after his teaching materials that analysed the advantages and disadvantages of civil disobedience received anonymous complaints.

“It shattered the trust that was fundamental to teaching,” the professor recalled.

Between the years of 2019 and 2021 Hong Kong authorities received 344 complaints about teachers over the protests for democracy, with 55% of the cases being confirmed.

One principal at a high school informed AFP the staff members to remain calm and follow government guidelines in full.

“Everyone is being very careful… If some (teaching materials) may touch on political sensitivities, then we’ll skirt around it,” said the teacher, who requested anonymity.

“Nobody wants trouble and the teachers don’t want to be held personally responsible.”

Are standards lower?

Authorities have resisted the notion of an emigration wave , and say that teachers are free to quit their jobs for a variety of reasons, such as retirement and additional study.

Hong Kong’s education head stated that schools were running smoothly, and that there were sufficient skilled teachers, despite an “slightly higher” attrition rate.

However, a recent study of 140 schools revealed that each school averaged losing 7 teachers and 32 students during the course of the year.

A newspaper Ming Pao surveyed its classified section and found that more than 200 schools were still searching for teachers at the end of July. In the past, most vacant positions would be filled at the final day of May.

Administrators have said that some schools were forced to hire unqualified students.

Schools also compete to lure students away, since their headcount is often a factor in government funding and helps protect them from the possibility of closing.

It’s not the only area that suffers from brain drain.

The population of the city has declined by about 6 percent since 2018 , to 3.75 million as per the most recent official statistics, the lowest in almost 10 years.

An influx of new Hong Kong teachers are now considering their options and assessing the possible risks associated with their professions.

University graduated Mak 23 has taught for a year English at the secondary school, despite the fact that Mak does not hold an official teacher’s certificate — a fact the school’s principal did not appear to be concerned about.

“I’ll continue teaching for the next few years, but not necessarily in the long term,” the professor said.

Mak believes he has no influence over what happens to his job.

“There’s not much that can be changed,” the man smiled. “You either submit, or quit.”

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