Foreign English-speaking teachers working at government schools in Hong Kong will have to swear allegiance to the city, officials have ordered, as fears increase for the territory’s ability to retain teachers in the face of growing restrictions.
The Hong Kong Education Bureau said on Saturday that English-speaking English teachers (NETs) and counselors working in public schools must sign a declaration by June 21 to continue working.
Since 2020, Hong Kong has used oath demands on a growing number of jobs, mainly those in the public sector, as a way to meet the Chinese government’s demands for loyalty.
NET must declare that they will be loyal to Hong Kong and uphold the constitution – the city’s constitutional text – in addition to being accountable to the government.
“Failure, refusal or failure” to sign the declaration will result in termination of the contract, authorities said.
The new declaration will “further safeguard and promote the core values that should be upheld by all public servants” and ensure effective governance, a government spokesman said.
NET is normally employed on renewable two-year contracts, with a monthly salary starting at around HK $ 32,000 (US $ 4100 / £ 3300) and can go as high as HK $ 74,000.
Hong Kong introduced the NET program in 1997 to improve students’ language skills, and has gradually made NET a standard feature in primary and secondary schools.
In addition to market-beating salaries, NET receives supplements and other incentives to secure storage, which has been a growing problem in recent years.
In April, the government reported that 13% of NET in upper secondary schools dropped out in the school year 2020-21, the highest figure in five years.
Officials said, however, that the retention and fatigue rates for NETs had been “largely stable.”
The city’s head of education, Kevin Yeung, has denied that an increasing number of NETs have left due to Hong Kong’s strict zero-Covid strategy.
“There are no significant reasons to attribute the departure of NETs or their decision on whether or not to come to teach in Hong Kong to our mandatory quarantine measures,” he told lawmakers in April.
Some teachers have expressed fears about the city’s political climate, as Beijing transforms Hong Kong into its authoritarian image.
The loyalty requirement was first imposed on civil servants in October 2020, and then extended to government employees employed on contract seven months later.
“National security education” has been a priority in schools, and some teachers have said they are now avoiding sensitive topics such as 1989 Heavenly Peace.