NET Teacher Survival Guide/The Education System in Hong Kong
| A Wikibookian believes this page should be split into smaller pages with a narrower subtopic.
You can help by splitting this big page into smaller ones. Please make sure to follow the naming policy. Dividing books into smaller sections can provide more focus and allow each one to do one thing well, which benefits everyone.
The Education System in Hong Kong and Your Role as a NET
How is the education system structured?
(see Education in Hong Kong) All children of Hong Kong residents are entitled to twelve years of universal basic education and are expected to attend school between the ages of six and eighteen. Most children attend kindergartens from the age of three onwards although there is only limited public funding for pre-school education in the form of means-tested subsidies. Although after the age of fifteen education is no longer compulsory, only a small proportion of teenagers drop out of formal education entirely at this stage.
Primary education lasts six years and the vast majority of primary school students are taught in Cantonese. Secondary education is divided into three stages. Secondary Forms One to Three are a foundation stage; Forms Four and Five prepare students for the Hong Kong Certificate of Education Exam and Forms Six and Seven prepare students for the Advanced Level Exam and university matriculation. These two exams are scheduled to be replaced by a unified diploma from 2011 onwards.
A very small number of less academically able secondary level students and students with learning disablities or behavioural problems have the option of attending prevocational schools, technical colleges and special schools where they can follow a curriculum which is modified to suit their needs and take vocational courses alongside a core of conventional academic subjects. However, most such students attend mainstream schools as there has been a drive by the government to integrate such students into the normal curriculum.
At many schools, students are streamed into 'arts', 'business' or 'engineering' streams from Form Four (usually age fifteen) upwards. They are required to study a block of complimentary subjects, which it is believed would lead logically to certain degree and career choices. Thus for the majority of students there is little flexibility in the options that they take after Form Three and they are effectively required to make permanent choices determining the shape of their future careers at the age of fourteen. One of the intended benefits of the new senior secondary curriculum, which is scheduled for introduction in 2009, is that rigid streaming is expected to become a thing of the past.
Promotion between forms in a school is not automatic and usually depends on a student's performance in coursework and exams having met certain minimum requirements. Thus it is not that unusual to have to teach a seventeen year old in a class of predominantly thirteen year olds.
At the end of Form Three, students compete to obtain subsidized places in their own schools and students who have performed less well in assessments at this stage may have to apply elsewhere or wait to be allocated through a pool system. Subsidies for students in forms Four and above are means tested so better off parents are expected to contribute a proportion of the costs of their children's last four years of secondary schooling. The least able students often find that the only schools that are willing to take them are a very long way away from home and therefore the only practical choice left open to them is to go to a private school or take evening classes.
However, starting from September 2006, all students entering Secondary One will take the New Senior Secondary Curriculum by the time they enter Secondary Four. Instead of taking both the Hong Kong Certificate of Education Examination (HKCEE) and Hong Kong Advanced-Level Examination (HKAL)to gain admission to tertiary education, this batch of students will take only one examination, Hong Kong Diploma of Education Examination. Under the new reform initiatives, students will take four core and one elective subjects (as the minimal admission requirement). The four core subjects are Chinese Language, English Language, Mathematics and Liberal Studies. This new university admission requirement will be effective from 2012. An overview of the new syllabus can be found here.
What different types of schools are there in Hong Kong?
Schools in Hong Kong fall into four main categories according to how they are managed.
Of the 430 secondary schools in Hong Kong, about 30 are government schools and are directly controlled by the Education Department. Teachers at these schools are often employed on civil service terms and are recruited and deployed through a central allocation system. Nonetheless, the principals of these schools have considerable freedom to make decisions about the day to day running of the school.
The vast majority of schools in Hong Kong are subsidized schools. These are often also called sub-vented or grant schools. They are independently owned and managed by a board of governors but they are dependent upon government funding. Most of these schools were originally founded by Christian or Buddhist religious orders, by charitable bodies, or by organizations representing people with a shared ancestry or who migrated to Hong Kong from the same part of the mainland.
Direct Subsidy Schools are schools that receive government funding but are also allowed to charge fees, subject to the requirement that they fully or partially subsidize places for a set proportion of their intake. These schools generally follow the local curriculum but enjoy greater freedom over staffing, class size and admissions. Schools in the DSS scheme are largely subject to market forces and in some cases the competition between them has led to more innovative teaching practices.
There are also a number of independent fee paying schools in Hong Kong, some of which cater mainly to the international community and some of which cater mainly to post Form Four students who were unable to obtain a place in a government or subsidized school. NET teachers will only be posted to government or subsidized schools. Schools are also categorized by the type of syllabus that they follow and (unofficially) the typical level of ability of the students on roll.
The majority of schools in Hong Kong are technically also categorized as 'grammar' schools. 'Grammar' schools are attended by 91% of secondary students in Hong Kong. This category may be confusing to teachers who are used to the term being used to describe elite selective schools which traditionally prepared students for university matriculation. In Hong Kong, the term 'grammar' school simply denotes that the students follow a conventional academic syllabus and are prepared for the HKCEE (post-16) and HKALE (post-18) exams.
Students in secondary schools are placed into three 'bands' according to their performance in school based assessment at the end of their primary education, and there is a considerable amount of competition among students for places at the most prestigious schools. Schools are for the most part filled by students who fall within the same banding and so you will often hear people talking about the banding of their school.
The fact that conventional schools are often called 'grammar' schools is indicative of a major problem in the education system. Universal free secondary education came about comparatively recently in Hong Kong, as recently as the 1960s and 1970s New schools set up at that time attempted to closely imitate the syllabus taught at the elite schools despite the lack of financial resources and the fact that the syllabus was too demanding for most students to be able to cope with.
Other types of schools include:
1. Prevocational and technical schools where students follow a less academic, more vocational syllabus,
2. Skills opportunity schools and practical schools for demotivated students and slow learners; and
3. Special needs schools which cater for students with a physical or mental handicap.
However, the government has adopted the policy of integrating students with special needs into mainstream schools and so these special school categories are rapidly being phased out.
What are the main problems in the education system in Hong Kong?
Over the past few years, the government has been eager to convince the public that it is treating education as a priority. A number of governmental and semi-autonomous bodies, including the Curriculum Development Council, the Education Commission, the Standing Committee on Language and Research, the Quality Assurance Inspectorate, Education Convergence and so forth, advise the government on education issues. The result of this is that a large number of initiatives in education have had to be implemented by schools at the behest of these bodies without sufficient reflection about whether teachers are ready for them or about the workload involved. New initiatives often require schools to set up committees or to do the paper-work in order to be able to prove to the Education and Manpower Bureau and to school inspectors that they have responded to government recommendations; the result of this is that teachers are weighed down with bureaucracy and often complain that they have insufficient time to prepare lessons, help individual students, or simply enjoy a life outside of school. These top-down initiatives have also often demoralized teachers because they seem to have been based on the assumption that teachers are not sufficiently professional to be able to judge for themselves what is in the best interests of their students.
Another significant problem faced by teachers and students in Hong Kong is a shortage of funding. Although the past decade has seen dramatic increases in the amount of money spent on education by the government, schools are still under-funded in comparison with their counterparts in the west.
The typical class size in secondary schools in Hong Kong is 40 to 42 students. These students often have to be accommodated in cramped classrooms that do not lend themselves to innovative teaching methods, and having such large classes makes it difficult for teachers to get to know their students well. The government has decided recently that it will reduce the maximum class size in secondary one classes to 38 in September 2008 and to 36 in September 2009.
Many schools also suffer from a lack of equipment and resources. There are huge discrepancies between the facilities in long established schools in affluent areas which are able to benefit from the financial support of alumni and parents and schools in poorer neighbourhoods which depend solely on government funding. Despite massive government investment in education, some schools have only one photocopier and there are even a few schools where the budget is so tight that teachers are required to provide their own toilet paper!
Due to the economic downturn in recent years, the government had to delay providing funds for essential maintenance work at some schools. Recently the media has reported cases of students having to be taught in rooms affected by damp and leaking ceilings. More recently, the government has been enjoying record surpluses and has been catching up with renovation work, but it will be some time before the effects of this are felt in all schools.
Perhaps the biggest worry for teachers is the very low birth rate in Hong Kong. Over the past decade, this has fallen very rapidly so that now each couple in Hong Kong has on average only 0.9 children. As a result, the school population has begun shrinking. Many primary schools have not been able to enroll enough students into their Primary One classes in order to satisfy government funding requirements, and are consequently facing the prospect of closure. Even though the government has begun to phase in small class teaching, the proposed reduction in class sizes will not be enough to prevent secondary schools running into the same problems, and it is expected that as soon as 2010 some secondary schools will fail to recruit sufficient numbers of students to be allowed to continue operating.
What are the major concerns for English language teachers?
The Education and Manpower Bureau has identified a number of major concerns which it encourages schools to focus on, and teachers and subject panels are encouraged to incorporate responses to these concerns into their lesson plans. Most of these concerns are relevant in some way to the teaching of English. They include: fostering a reading culture; instilling positive attitudes towards life-wide learning; enhancing moral education; using IT for teaching and learning; and developing civic and national education. You will almost certainly be asked to contribute ideas for how to achieve some of these objectives in your panel.
Since 2007 HKCE English students all sit the same exam and the examination authority has also switched from normative to criterion-based assessment of English. 15% of the examination marks are determined by school-based assessment. For this assessment, students are required to read two books and watch two videos, including fiction and non-fiction, and then discuss these with classmates as well as giving individual oral presentations. Teachers are required to report oral marks at the end of Form Four and at the end of Form Five. There has been considerable concern about the impact that this has had on teachers’ workloads.
How is the education system changing?
The government has already initiated several major changes in its education policy in the past few years. The most significant of these has been the decision to require the majority of secondary schools to use Cantonese as the medium of instruction instead of English. It is hoped that this will make it easier for students to understand what they are being taught and so will enhance student motivation and the quality of teaching and learning. However, one third of schools (those at which a minimum proportion of students are sufficiently strong at English in order to be able to cope with using the language as a medium of instruction) have been allowed to keep teaching in English. As parents associate English medium of instruction with better English and better career prospects for their children, these EMI schools have become heavily oversubscribed. Only recently, the government decided to introduce new criteria to determine whether schools can remain EMI, with a view to putting these in place in 2008. In order to use English, a school would have had to ensure that 85% of its students fall in the top 40% for English, Maths and Chinese. These requirements would mean that English medium schools are penalized for offering places to children who are native English speakers but who are less academically inclined or who do not speak or read Chinese. However there is some confusion at the moment as the government has suggested that it may be willing to be more flexible in deciding whether schools should be allowed to use EMI, even suggesting that some schools may be allowed to use EMI for some classes and CMI for others. Schools will also have to prove that their teachers are capable of teaching in English; older staff members who entered the profession before the Use of English A-level exam was created may find it difficult to prove their language ability on paper.
The government has launched a Quality Education Fund, which allocates resources to schools on a competitive basis; in order to be awarded funds, schools have to demonstrate that the money will be spent in an innovative way and will enhance learning. Many schools have used these funds to develop original and forward-looking schemes in fields such as information technology and multimedia but a criticism of the QEF is that it has led to an uneven distribution of funds.
The government is also determined to promote the use of information technology in schools and has put large amounts of money into pilot I.T. projects in selected schools. The government also requires every teacher to pass a benchmark in order to demonstrate that he or she has attained basic information technology skills. In order to comply with this requirement, you may find that you are expected to attend very lengthy I.T. courses. Some teachers have complained that they have been required to waste hours being 'taught' very basic I.T. skills that they had already mastered. Others have expressed the concern that the more advanced courses that their schools want everyone to pass don't fall far short of qualifying those who take them for working for NASA! In the early stages of this scheme, schools conducted in-service training to enable their staff to reach the IT benchmarks; now if you need IT training it is more likely to have to take place in your own time and at your own expense.
Another major change is the drive to promote professionalism in education. At present a significant proportion of teachers do not hold a first degree or do not have a teaching qualification. The government intends that in the future all teachers will have a university degree and hold a teacher’s certificate, but a shortage of funds and recent salary cuts may make it difficult for the government to attract a sufficient number of graduates to the profession over the next few years.Therefore, the government has decided to require teachers who do not hold a degree in the subject that they teach to complete extensive ‘subject knowledge’ courses – English teachers are being required to take these courses even if they have passed the language benchmark, and many of them complain that they are expensive, time-consuming and of limited practical relevance to their needs in the classroom.
In addition all serving teachers are also required to complete 150 hours of continuing professional development over a three-year period, although what counts as CPD has been defined very broadly and is at the discretion of individual schools. A common concern is the poor quality of training provided for teachers by the Education and Manpower Bureau and the lack of consultation with teachers over what they perceive to be their training needs.
Prospective English teachers are now required to sit benchmarking tests or take courses in order to demonstrate their proficiency in the language. NETs, together with local teachers who have a degree or PCEd. majoring in English, are exempt from benchmarking.
The most dramatic changes to the education system, however, are those that have been proposed recently by the Education Commission. The commission wants to replace the HKCEE (post 16) and HKALE (post 18) exams with a unitary exam and wants to reduce senior secondary schooling from four years to three in order to make it possible for university courses to be extended from three years to four. Under the proposed new senior secondary syllabus, all students will be required to study a three-year senior secondary course leading to a diploma. This will include compulsory English, Maths, Chinese and Liberal Studies as well as either two or three additional optional subjects. Both traditional academic subjects and more career-oriented courses will be on offer. A significant proportion of marks for every diploma subject will come from school-based assessment. This reform is aimed at giving a greater number of students access to a complete high-school education which will potentially equip them for university; at present only 18% of students continue their education beyond Form Five. However, the new syllabuses and the requirement to conduct school-based assessment will greatly increase teachers’ workloads, at least during the transitional period.
Is there more information about the Hong Kong Education System?
See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Education_in_Hong_Kong for further information regarding the Hong Kong Education System.
Your role as NET
What will a typical day be like?
A school day in Hong Kong typically starts at some time between 8 a.m. and 8.30 a.m. You will probably be expected to sign in on a staff list when you arrive at work. As a NET it is unlikely that you will be assigned a form or homeroom, although you may be asked to assist a homeroom teacher with his duties which will usually only entail substituting for him when he is unable to take the class register.
At most schools, assemblies only take place once per week or once per teaching cycle, but some schools hold them every day. A large proportion of these assemblies may be taken up by announcements. As some schools do not have a sufficiently large hall for all the students they either arrange assemblies in shifts or hold their assemblies out of doors.
Your school may use a six-day or seven-day cycle in order to accommodate minor subjects into the timetable and may change the sequence of cycle days from time to time in order to accommodate special events and activities, so it is wise to double-check which day of the cycle it is when you arrive at work.
Classes will usually last between thirty and forty-five minutes. You will probably find that if you teach senior forms these are allocated some double or even triple periods of English on their timetables in order to allow teachers sufficient time to conduct exam practice.
At some schools there are two short recesses before lunch, but you will find that much of your recess and lunch times are taken up with dealing with disciplinary matters, with giving help to individual students or organizing extra-curricular activities.
The school day usually ends between 3 p.m. and 4 p.m. but you will probably run extra-curricular activities, teach supplementary classes or attend meetings after school.
With a bit of luck you will have had enough time during your free periods to mark at least some of your students' work, but there will always be times when you may have to take books home with you.
How does the role of a Primary NET differ from that of a Secondary NET?
Primary NETs are provided to primary schools operating 6 classes or more on an individual basis, i.e. 1 NET serves 1 school. A NET may be shared between 2 schools, but this arrangement is being phased out. The Primary NETs are required to -
(a) undertake teaching duties and try out good teaching models/practices related to the learning, teaching and assessment of English;
(b) organize and conduct extra-curricular activities related to English learning and teaching such as plays/skit performances, school-based English camps, English language games (day), story-telling activities, songs and dances, verse speaking, and extensive reading; and, if applicable, to contribute to other extra-curricular activities such as IT, art and craft activities and sports;
(c) provide support for the English panel, including contributing to school-based curriculum development and professional development of fellow teachers as well as developing and preparing learning/teaching materials; and
(d) act as an advisor on language teaching and learning for the principal and teachers in the school.
What are the objectives of the Primary NET Scheme?
It aims to support and strengthen English language teaching and learning in one form or another by -
(a) providing an authentic environment for children to learn English and developing their confidence in using English for communication;
(b) developing innovative teaching and learning methods, materials, curricula and activities suited to the needs of local children;
(c) promoting the professional development of local teachers; and
(d) disseminating good practices in language teaching and learning developed within the scheme through regional teacher development programmes such as experience-sharing seminars/workshops and networking activities.
What support is available to NET Teachers?
Support Mechanism in Primary Schools
Each school is required to assign an experienced school English teacher (SET) to work in partnership with the NET. The SET acts as a bridge between the NET and the school management and other English teachers so as to facilitate institutionalization of innovative/effective teaching methods and curriculum resources developed collaboratively with the NET in the school.
The Government provides support for the Scheme by way of an Advisory Teaching Team (ATT), which comprises 20 NETs and 20 local English teachers (LETs) seconded from primary schools. The ATT designs and operates regular staff development programmes for the NETs and the SETs and conducts school development visits to monitor the deployment of NETs in individual schools. It provides support for the development of innovative/effective teaching methods and related curriculum resources and disseminates good teaching practices in primary schools. The ATT also provides peripatetic support for schools with fewer than six classes.
In addition to setting up the ATT, professional support teams (PSTs) are formed to provide pastoral care for the NETs and monitor and evaluate the Scheme.
Support Mechanism in Secondary Schools
A Secondary Advisory Teaching Team is currently under discussion and information will be added here when it becomes available.
Of course, there is also the support offered by NESTA. In particular, the NESTA liaison officer holds regular meetings with government officials and when necessary is able to pass individuals’ concerns on to the relevant authorities.
What will a typical year be like?
Although the term starts in early September, the school year really starts during the last week of August when you will probably be expected to attend whole school and departmental meetings. The first term of the year is by far the longest and most demanding as it lasts seventeen weeks and there are no half term holidays, although several public holidays fall during this part of the year.
The autumn term is also the most demanding for English teachers in terms of extracurricular activities as it is during this term that the speech festival and preparation for other major drama competitions take place. You will probably be expected to train students for poetry recitals, prose reading or choral speaking as well as possibly having to direct a play, coach a debating team or run top-up classes for students who are planning to retake public exams.
As Hong Kong usually gets its best weather during the autumn this is also the time of year when you are most likely to be expected to attend and help out at sports days and swimming galas. Many schools also schedule a picnic day during this term. On picnic day you and your colleagues will be expected to accompany a group of students to a country park or outlying island; the most popular activity on picnic days is barbecuing . Toward the end of the first term you will be expected to process reports for your students. At most schools report writing only involves entering a grade into a computer based on the students’ average performance in written assignments during the term. These grades are often then used to rank students against the rest of their year-group (which must be demoralizing for those unlucky souls who receive a report telling them that they have come 242nd out of a year group of 242 students). In some schools you will be asked to give comments using a code system. It is unusual for schools to expect subject teachers to write out comments. At around the same time you will also be expected to set papers for the mid-year exams which take place in January.
The short term between Christmas and Chinese New Year usually lasts between four and six weeks depending on the vagaries of the lunar calendar. Usually two weeks of this period are taken up by invigilating and marking mid-year exams and another week is taken up by going over exam papers with students to check that your marking is correct and to help them to understand what they did right and what they did wrong. At around this time you will probably find that you have to wear thick clothing to school as Hong Kong's winters are surprisingly cold and schools usually do not have any heating. Around this time, parents come into the school to meet their children's homeroom teachers and to collect report cards. You may have the chance to meet parents at this time, but it is not normal for parents to meet all their children's subject teachers and parents who have limited English are often reluctant to arrange meetings with expatriate teachers.
From February onwards life at school usually gets progressively less stressful. Extra-curricular activities usually place less of a demand on teachers' time in the second half of the year as students are too preoccupied with preparing for their final exams or for public exams to have time for extra-mural activities. If you are teaching Form Seven students you will find that your timetable becomes lighter in the middle of March when they have their last classes before their A-level exams. If you are teaching Form Five classes then life will become easier for you when they leave school in April. However, you will probably be called on to invigilate public exams during this period.
During the summer months, many schools adopt a summer timetable in order to save on the costs of air conditioning during Hong Kong’s extremely hot summer afternoons. If you are extremely lucky, you may even be able to go home by 1:30 p.m. Late May and early June see another round of report processing and of setting, invigilating and marking internal exams. After the final exams are over, most schools have post exam activities running from late June to the end of term in the middle of July.
During this period, normal classes are suspended. This allows the school some time for administrative matters, the most pressing of which are promotion meetings. At promotion meetings, homeroom and subject teachers will be called upon to discuss their students' performance and to decide on which students would benefit from being required to retake the school year.
The post-exams activities period also gives teachers the chance to run extra-curricular activities and it is common for schools to schedule dramas, competitions and fetes at this time of the year.
What should I do in order to get on with my local colleagues?
Do not be surprised if some local colleagues are suspicious of you at first or feel nervous about approaching you. It is not unusual for local teachers, however good their English may be, to feel embarrassed about their English when faced with having to speak to an expatriate. Bear in mind that many local teachers may feel that as a NET you are in a privileged position both financially and in terms of the duties that you are expected to fulfill. It is important to make sure that you are perceived as a friend rather than a threat and are welcomed rather than resented. Therefore the onus is on you to break the ice.
There are several ways that you can do this. Teachers in Hong Kong seem to greatly enjoy sharing snacks with each other, and going around your immediate neighbours in the staff room in order to offer them biscuits, chocolates and so forth is a good way of befriending them. You might also consider asking people where they recommend that you should go for lunch as this will increase your chances of getting a lunch invitation.
However much you may find the way in which your school is run frustrating, it is probably wisest to avoid voicing your criticisms on sensitive matters. The Chinese resent it intensely if anyone makes them lose face, and although people may put on a show of not being offended by your criticisms, if you have hurt their feelings you can be sure that they will bear a grudge against you for a long time. By all means make constructive suggestions for how things could be done better and by all means put forward your new ideas, but don't assume that you can make things change overnight; otherwise your colleagues will think that you are arrogant and will probably ignore you.
Try to make your local colleagues feel that you appreciate them by asking them for advice about students and about the local culture. Try to encourage them to share their teaching ideas and lesson plans with you; if you do this first there will be a much greater chance of them being open to your suggestions. Find opportunities to praise and encourage your colleagues whenever possible.
How much English will my students already know?
(See Hong Kong English)
Your students' competence in English and their willingness to learn will vary tremendously depending on which school you are assigned to.
If you are assigned to a prestigious Band One school you may find that even your youngest students are performing competently at upper-intermediate or even advanced level. However, this will not necessarily mean that they are particularly keen on English. Maths and the sciences are often considered by students to be more prestigious subjects, and so you may find it difficult to foster enthusiasm for English among your brighter students - although girls seem to enjoy English more than boys do.
Cantonese, which is the mother tongue of about 90% of Hong Kong residents, is usually referred to as a ‘dialect’ of Chinese. In fact, it is as different from Mandarin/ Putonghua, China’s official language, as English is from German. As Chinese is a non-alphabetic language, students find phonics surprisingly challenging. As the language has no cognates with English and does not even have many loan words, students have little in their own language to help them to learn English vocabulary. However, the biggest challenge for Chinese speakers who are learning English is grammar. Cantonese, like all other Chinese dialects, is an isolating, non-agglutinative language. It has no suffixes or prefixes, no system of changing word-endings to mark plurals, declension or tenses, and nothing that resembles English phrasal verbs – so all of these grammar items present a challenge for Chinese students. Cantonese has no /sh/, /zh/, /z/, or /v/ sounds, very few consonant blends and fewer dipthongs than English, so pronunciation and distinguishing between similar sounding words can also be hard work for students. Most terminal consonants in Cantonese words are semi-silent or resemble glottal stops, a pattern which is maintained when Cantonese speakers speak English. Also, as Cantonese is tonal, it does not make use of stress and intonation to support meaning at sentence level in quite the same way as English. Even the Chinese concept of what constitutes a word is different from that in English; the Chinese language has no word for “word” distinct from the word for “character” even though Chinese monosyllabic characters usually have to be combined into pairs to form what English speakers would think of as a single word.
Because English is so different from Chinese, if you are in a Band One school you will probably find that whereas your junior students cope very easily with the simpler tasks you assign to them, senior students find it hard to make the transition to writing extensive formal prose which is expected of them in the Advanced level exam. As there is such a leap between what is expected of students in Form Five and what is expected of them in Form Six, it is easy to be misled into thinking that students in Form Six are less fluent than their counterparts in Form Five.
In lower band and non-banded schools you will find a totally different situation. Often students in these schools will be aware that they stand no chance of passing formal exams in the subject and will not see English as having any relevance to their own future needs, so they will be indifferent or hostile to the idea of learning. In the very worst cases, NETs have had to cope with classes in which most students do not know the alphabet, find it hard to cope with even very elementary English and have little interest in anything in English except for swear words. Obviously in these cases the need to establish authority, build trust with students and tailor the curriculum to meet their needs is paramount and probably easier said than done. Support is available for teachers in these difficult situations, but when your students have very little English the most important thing is to build relationships with your local colleagues.
What is life like for teenagers in Hong Kong?
(See Hong Kong's Economy)
Hong Kong has an extremely wide disparity in income between the richest and the poorest sections of the community, so that while the top 20% of the population enjoy a standard of living that easily rivals that of middle class Europeans and North Americans, the bottom 20% of the population live in near third-world conditions. It is little wonder, therefore, that many people in Hong Kong highly value education as a means towards attaining success in exams and ultimately securing social advancement.
Like the rest of the world, Hong Kong has been affected by a severe economic downturn since 2008. Although still at very low rates by western standards, unemployment is rising, and property prices have seen a marked decline. Teenagers are keenly aware of these issues.
Parents often have to work long hours so some students have little contact with their parents and do not receive the guidance and support that they need. The children of migrants from the mainland are often particularly isolated from their parents; there are many cases of children living with one parent while the other parent has to stay on the mainland waiting for an exit permit.
About half of the population of Hong Kong lives in public housing, most of which is extremely crowded and in a poor state of repair. It is not unusual for a family of six to have to share a 400 sq. foot flat. This overcrowding has an adverse effect on students' studies as in such crowded conditions it is often impossible for students to find a quiet place at home where they can do their schoolwork. Some public housing estates are particularly targeted by triads and there are some areas of Hong Kong where drug abuse and prostitution are widespread. Obviously, living in close proximity to crime adversely affects young people's education.
Hong Kong is a culturally complex society where the traditional Chinese religions - Buddhism, Taoism and Confucianism - coexist with increasingly popular Christianity and there are also sizeable Muslim and Sikh communities, but the most pervasive value system in modern Hong Kong is secular materialism. The complexity of Hong Kong's cultures and Hong Kong's confusing status as a Special Autonomous Region have left many teenagers feeling confused about their values and uncertain as to where their loyalties should lie. In Hong Kong it is not unusual for people to shift between cultural loyalties depending on the circumstances. You may find for example that your students hold the opinion that problems such as drug addiction or sexually transmitted diseases are 'western' problems that could be prevented in Hong Kong if people were to adhere more closely to traditional Chinese values, but you are just as likely to hear Hong Kongers criticizing the supposed 'backwardness' of mainland China. Many people in Hong Kong hold simplistic views about Chinese cultural and racial superiority but at the same time aspire to an American lifestyle.
Popular Culture in Hong Kong
(See Hong Kong Culture)
Popular culture in Hong Kong is fast moving, dominated by brief fads, eclectic, highly gender-based and at times may seem infantile to an outsider. Trends come and go very quickly. Teenage girls and even young adult women often have an affection for stuffed toys and cartoon characters that would surprise their peers in the west. Teenage boys and even many male adults seem to be fascinated by comic books, which are often violent or sexually explicit. Many boys are enthusiastic followers of NBA basketball, while British league football seems to have attracted a large female audience. Many people seem to have a morbid curiosity about the personal lives of film-stars and pop singers. Chinese- language network television in Hong Kong is dominated by tabloid style magazine programmes, soap operas and, especially, period costume dramas, while children's programmes on Chinese channels are mostly dubbed cartoons and latex monster versus superhero dramas imported from Japan.
General Information on Hong Kong
News and current affairs in Hong Kong:
Information on rental properties:
Information about education:
IMPORTANT TELEPHONE NUMBERS:
Emergency: Police/Ambulance/Fire: 999
Police: General Police Enquiries: 2527 7177 Directory enquiries 2860 2000
Ambulance: Free ambulance [St John's]: Hong Kong 2576 6555 Kowloon 2713 5555 New Territories 2639 2555
Weather (storm warning): 1878 066
Home Affairs Emergency Hotline: Emergency Hotline-2835 1473 Operational during tropical Cyclone, Landslip, and Red & Black Rainstorm warnings
Directory Enquiries: 1081
Community Advice Bureau: 2524 5444
Collect telephone calls: 10010
Inland Revenue Department (tax): 187 8022 / 187 8033 www.immd.gov.hk
Immigration Department: 2824 6111 
Taxi services in Hong Kong: 2574 7311
Taxi Union lost report (Union will contact all drivers to report articles lost in a taxi.): 2385 8288
Transport Department Enquiry Phone: Hotline - 2804 2600
COMMUNITY GROUPS: Arts.
Hong Kong Folk Society  email: email@example.com (Folk music listeners and players!)
Hong Kong Players, (the longest running community theatre group in Hong Kong; a dynamic and vibrant theatre company that endeavors to bring excellent theatre to its audience) www.hongkongplayers.com 2331 2005
Salsa Dance Classes  9410-8652 / 2521-7251 email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Samaritans (Crisis intervention): 2896 0000
Hong Kong Red Cross  2802 0021 email: email@example.com
Oxfam Hong Kong  2520-2525 email: firstname.lastname@example.org
UNICEF  2833 6139 email: email@example.com
HK Society for Prevention of cruelty to Animals  2802 0501
Worldwide Fund for Nature [http:/www.wwf.org.hk] 2523 2316 email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Earthcare  25780434 email: email@example.com
Rotary Club of Hong Kong  email: firstname.lastname@example.org
YWCA  3476 1340 email: email@example.com
YMCA  2782 6682
Asia Expat.com 
Australian Association  2530.4461 email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Hong Kong Cricket Association  2504-8102 email: email@example.com
Hong Kong Tennis Association.  2504 8266 email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Hong Kong Yachting Association  2504-8159 email: HKSF@sailing.org.hk
ScubaNetwork Hong Kong  email: email@example.com
Walking With Hong Kong  9359 9071 / 9187 8641 email: firstname.lastname@example.org
HK Professional Teachers' Union  2780 7337 email: email@example.com
CONSULATES IN HONG KONG:
23/F, Harbour Centre, 25 Harbour Road, Wan Chai, Hong Kong
Tel: (852) 2827 8881
Email: firstname.lastname@example.org (for general enquiries only - not for visa & migration enquiries)
Visa & Migration office Opening hours: 9:00am to 12:00noon (Monday - Friday)
Passport & Consular Services office Opening hours: 9:00am to 5:00pm (Monday - Friday)
Passports may be lodged from 9:00am to 4:00pm
Witnessing Documents - 9:00am to 1:00pm each Wednesday Email: email@example.com
Tel: (852) 2901 3281 Fax: (852) 2901 3204
Consular Section, 4th Floor, British Consulate-General, 1 Supreme Court Road, Hong Kong.
The Consular Section opening hours are: personal callers: 8.45am - 3pm Monday - Friday telephone enquiries: 8.45am - 4.30pm Monday –Thursday 8.45am - 4.15pm Friday Out of office hours Emergency Service: 2901 3000.
Consulate General of Canada:
Immigration Section Tower One,
12th Floor 8 Connaught Place Hong Kong Mission
Tel.: (852) 2810-4321
Immigration Tel.: (852) 2847-7555
Monday: 08:00 - 17:00 Tuesday: 08:00 - 17:00 Wednesday: 08:00 - 12:30 Thursday: 08:00 - 17:00 Friday: 08:00 - 17:00 Comments: Open to public - Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday from 8:00 to 11:30.
Honorary Consul of Ireland
22/F Prince's Building Central Hong Kong
Phone Number: 28262798
New Zealand Immigration Service 6508 Central Plaza 18 Harbour Road Wanchai Hong Kong
Tel: +(852) 2877 4488 Fax: +(852) 2877 0586
South Africa Consulate-General of the Republic of South Africa:
Hong Kong Address: 27/F Sunning Plaza, 10 Hysan Avenue, Causeway Bay, Hong Kong.
Phone Number: 25773279
26 Garden Road, Hong Kong
Tel: (852) 2523-9011