Foreign English-language teachers working in Hong Kong’s public schools will have to swear allegiance to the city, officials have ordered, as fears grow over the territory’s ability to retain educators in the face of growing restrictions.
Hong Kong’s education bureau said on Saturday that English Mother Tongue (NET) teachers and counselors working in public schools must sign a declaration by June 21 in order to continue working.
Since 2020, Hong Kong has applied swearing requirements to an increasing number of jobs, mainly those in the public sector, to meet the loyalty requirements of the Chinese government.
NETs must declare that they will pledge allegiance to Hong Kong and abide by the Basic Law – the city’s constitutional text – while being accountable to the government.
“Negligence, refusal or failure” to sign the statement would result in termination of the contract, authorities said.
The new statement will “preserve and further promote core values that should be upheld by all government employees” and ensure effective governance, a government spokesperson said.
NETs are normally hired on renewable two-year contracts, with monthly salaries that start at around HK$32,000 (US$4,100/£3,300) and can go up to HK$74,000.
Hong Kong introduced the NET curriculum in 1997 to improve students’ language skills and gradually made NETs a standard feature in primary and secondary schools.
In addition to above-market salaries, NETs receive government stipends and other incentives to ensure retention, which has been a growing problem in recent years.
In April, the government reported that 13% of secondary school NETs had dropped out in the 2020-21 school year, the highest figure in five years.
Officials, however, said NET retention and attrition rates had been “largely stable.”
The city’s education chief, Kevin Yeung, has denied that an increasing number of NETs have left due to Hong Kong’s strict zero-Covid strategy.
“There is no substantial reason to attribute NET’s departure or their decision whether or not to come and teach in Hong Kong to our mandatory quarantine measure,” he told lawmakers in April.
Some teachers have expressed fears about the city’s political climate as Beijing reshapes Hong Kong in its authoritarian image.
The duty of loyalty was first imposed on civil servants in October 2020, then extended to civil servants hired under contract seven months later.
“National security education” has become a priority in schools and some teachers said they now avoid sensitive topics such as the 1989 Tiananmen crackdown.