Hong Kong authorities are considering extending a mandatory exam on the Basic Law, the city’s mini-constitution, to cover new teachers who join schools under the direct subsidy scheme (DSS) and subsidised kindergartens, as well as educators on temporary contracts.
The education minister revealed the possible move in a Legislative Council meeting on Wednesday, as he announced the results of the first round of Basic Law tests taken by new teachers who hoped to join the city’s more than 900 government-subsidised schools. Secretary for Education Kevin Yeung Yun-hung said 70 per cent of the candidates passed the multiple-choice question exam held in January.
Those who failed were not permitted to take up jobs at the schools and must wait to try again when authorities launched a new round of tests next year at the earliest, he said.
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“The requirement was announced in November last year. For teachers who are looking to change jobs, they already have had ample time to make arrangements,” Yeung said.
“[Passing the test] is a basic requirement. We cannot just provide an exemption for teachers who [did not prepare] to switch jobs. If that’s the case, the teacher can just stay in his or her school for another year and take the test next year.”
Yeung was responding to education sector lawmaker Chu Kwok-keung, who relayed concerns from principals’ that if extra tests were not arranged, schools could face hiring difficulties in the coming months.
The exam requirement, announced by leader Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor, is part of the government’s latest effort to push for stricter professional conduct from teachers following an influx of complaints during the 2019 anti-government protests.
The exam, which tests candidates’ general knowledge of the Basic Law with 15 multiple-choice questions, has been a recruitment requirement for civil servants and public school teachers hired by the government.
According to a circular issued by the Education Bureau last November, the exam was put in place to ensure teachers had a correct understanding of the Basic Law “in order to enlighten students and help them correctly understand the constitutional status of Hong Kong and develop positive attitudes towards the Basic Law and ‘one country, two systems’”.
Education authorities arranged two rounds of similar exams, in January and May, for 14,500 applicants who were either fresh graduates hoping to teach in subsidised schools or those changing jobs. Yeung said the passing rate for the second round was not ready.
Responding to a question by Horace Cheung Kwok-kwan, a lawmaker with the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong, on the possibility of the requirement being expanded to cover more teachers, the education chief said various proposals would be considered in an internal review to be conducted soon.
This included whether the test should be made mandatory for new teachers in subsidised kindergartens, schools under the direct subsidy scheme and those on temporary contracts.
Compared with government and other subsidised schools, those operating under the direct subsidy scheme have greater autonomy. They can exercise full discretion in student intake, curriculum design and fee levels.
“In general, we are going to gradually extend the scope of the test to different schools and to different teachers … We are going to do this in a gradual manner,” Yeung said.
Dion Chan, chairman of the Hong Kong Direct Subsidy Scheme Schools Council, said some DSS schools had already made the Basic Law test one of their entry requirements, following the bureau’s earlier suggestion that they could take reference from subsidised schools.
Chan said he believed the test would not pose great difficulties to teachers in DSS schools. He said: “I heard some teachers saying they could easily get a pass if they prepared for it.”
Chow Wai-chun, president of the Early Childhood Educators Association, said kindergarten teachers had not received any relevant education about the law in their pre-employment training when they studied early childhood education.
“I hope the bureau can provide sufficient time and training to teachers before making it an entry requirement,” Chow said.
She said she expected the bureau would want the requirements for early childhood teachers to be aligned with those in subsidised primary and secondary schools, given most of the half-day kindergartens were now fully funded by the government.
But both Chan and Chow said the bureau did not consult them about possibly extending the test to teachers working in schools covered by the direct subsidy scheme and kindergartens.
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