NET Scheme for Teaching English in Hong Kong – How it Works and How to Apply
So, you’re interested in teaching English in Hong Kong? Although there are many avenues in which to do this, one particular program that is unique to Hong Kong is the Native English Teacher (NET) Scheme. I’ve just started my fourth consecutive year teaching in a local school in the New Territories in Hong Kong, and the scheme has definitely provided me with plenty of opportunities.
The role of a NET is to enhance the English learning environment in public sector schools. The Education Bureau (EDB) of Hong Kong recruits native speakers from English-speaking countries around the world to give students a chance to interact and learn English from a foreigner.
Hong Kong is an attractive city for teachers, as the salary is higher than that in many other countries, and it’s a great travel gateway to other countries in Asia for teachers who usually get long holidays. The city is known as a hub for expats and it’s a top food and culture destination. Whether you enjoy the bustle of the city, the tranquility of nature, or the relaxation of the beach – you can get them all in Hong Kong!
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History of the NET Scheme
After the handover of Hong Kong back to China in 1997, there was much discussion about Chinese being the medium of instruction in schools, and what that would mean for English language learning. Thus, in 1998, the NET Scheme in secondary schools was born, followed by the primary section a few years later. This year, the NET Scheme celebrates its 20th anniversary.
The NET Section is a division of the EDB that was established in 2002, which provides support and guidance for teachers under the NET Scheme. The NET Section is comprised of the Advisory Teaching Team (primary section) and Regional NET Coordinating Team (secondary section).
Duties of a NET
The NET’s role is to enhance the English atmosphere, which can be interpreted in a variety of ways. You may be asked to run after-school lessons such as debating or drama club; decorate and hold activities in your school’s “English Corner”; or develop English language lessons and other curriculum materials.
Although you are technically employed by the EDB, you have to report to your school and fulfill the duties your school requires of you. This could be speech festival training, teaching Saturday enhancement classes, taking students on outings, teaching summer classes, running your school’s “English Week” or organizing lunchtime activities.
As far as teaching load goes, this can vary, depending on your school. Many NETs often teach solely oral classes or drama lessons. For me, I teach a full general English class with a few oral lessons. A smart English Panel Chair (EPC) will give you a schedule that plays to your strengths and maximizes your effectiveness in the school.
How to Apply for the NET Scheme in Hong Kong
The competition to be an EDB NET is fierce. You should expect to at least have a bachelor’s degree and several years’ teaching experience, with top priority given to Education-degree holders. An English degree and experience teaching English as a foreign language are also advantageous. Although you may be considered for the scheme without these specific qualifications, you may not ultimately be chosen.
Each year, applications are accepted for the upcoming school year. The deadline for applications is usually the end of January. If you are selected for an interview and you do not live in Hong Kong, you will have to travel to a specific location for the interview, which is usually held by a panel from the EDB. For me, the North American location was New York City. You also have to do a written test – I had to write an essay in a short amount of time about how I would introduce myself to students on my first day of teaching.
If you pass the interview, it doesn’t guarantee you a job! There’s a ton of paperwork to do, including a qualifications assessment. If approved, you will then be put into a “candidate pool” where the EDB will send your CV out to certain schools that are looking for a new NET. Some schools will advertise for a new NET without going through the EDB directly, which means you are welcome to job hunt on your own. If you choose this option, know that the EDB will not send your TEFL resume/CV to any schools.
Hopefully, some schools will contact you for a TEFL interview. I’ve heard from other NETs that it’s advantageous to actually be in Hong Kong while applying to schools, although this means that the EDB will not provide a passage allowance (flight reimbursement) if you’ve come to Hong Kong before securing a job. For me, however, I had a Skype interview from Canada with my current school and was hired shortly after. Luck of the draw, I guess! Finding a job may not happen instantaneously, however. Most schools will not know if their current NET is staying or leaving until the month of May, and many may not recruit for new teachers until June or July. You also have to factor in at least a month’s processing time for your working visa and other documents before arriving in Hong Kong. I didn’t get a job offer until the end of July, so while you’re in the candidate pool, it’s definitely a waiting game.
After securing a job, you have the option to attend the NET induction days. These are super important, especially if you’re new to Hong Kong, as members of the NET Section will help ease your worries and impart some valuable teaching tips. During my induction, we had a mini Cantonese lesson and learned about the cultural challenges you might face in your school. This was extremely helpful for me.
In order to draw qualified foreign teachers to Hong Kong, the EDB offers an attractive relocation package for teachers and their dependents, whose normal place of residence is outside of Hong Kong. They cover a return flight from your country of origin to Hong Kong for each completed contract. A housing allowance and medical allowance is also provided. Currently, the housing allowance is approximately $21 000 HKD, and this amount gets assessed and usually increased every year. You can thank the soaring-high rent prices for this!
As far as salary goes, your pay is determined based on your qualifications and experience, and you will be paid according to the government’s Master Pay Scale (MPS). Each year, if your school deems your performance satisfactory, you will gradually move up a point on the pay scale. Upon completion of your first contract, you can apply for the Retention Incentive, which is a 5% raise for continuing into a 3rd and 4th year of teaching. If you stay 5 years and onwards, the rate is boosted to a 10% raise. The most alluring bonus is the contract gratuity, however. If you apply for this, you will receive 15% of your basic salary upon completion of each contract.
As you can see, if you stay on the scheme long term, you can quickly rise to the top of the pay scale and live a very comfortable life in Hong Kong.
Although working in an international school is a top goal for many serious English teachers, the NET Scheme offers many things that an international school can’t always provide.
Being a NET allows you to get an authentic cultural experience in Hong Kong by working with local students and teachers. You will likely be the only foreigner in your school, which means that students and staff will really value the knowledge and culture that you can bring to the learning environment.
For many students in local schools, you may be the only foreigner they have ever met, and probably ever will meet! This means that you will impact on their lives a great deal and bring something completely different to their lessons that they may never have experienced before.
In my experience, English departments often give the NET a lot of creative control. My school encourages me to “switch things up” in my lessons, so my students have studied topics such as Disney, Taylor Swift, veganism, etc. We’ve had Halloween parties, movie nights, photo scavenger hunts, and charity walks. On Saturdays, I’ve taught them “culture classes” where they learn how to have a proper British afternoon tea and taste different American foods. The students love these interactive lessons, and my department appreciates the creative ideas that I provide.
One of the things I absolutely love about working in a local school is that I don’t have to deal with parents. Many parents in local schools do not speak English confidently, so it’s unlikely that they’ll want to meet with you. I consider this a bonus because I’ve had to deal with not-so-pleasant parents while teaching in English-speaking countries. This doesn’t mean that you’re off the hook entirely, however! Depending on your school’s banding (academic ranking), you may have some parents who are more than willing to meet with you.
The most important thing is the students. Although not all are perfect angels, in Hong Kong, youngsters are taught to respect people in positions of authority and are generally kind. Compared to their counterparts in many other countries, Hong Kong students’ overall work ethic is admirable and in most families, schoolwork is stressed as the number one priority. They are expected to devote most of their time to academics and the majority of them genuinely work hard.
Common Challenges a NET Faces
Being the only foreigner in a school does have its challenges. The lack of English among colleagues is probably the most difficult aspect for me. Emails, notices, and meetings are all in Chinese. Communicating with janitors, teachers from non-English departments, security, or office staff can often be a huge hassle. Sometimes I feel unmotivated to do large-scale activities because asking for assistance or communicating what I need from the school is impossible.
Depending on your school’s banding, you may have students who speak no English whatsoever. How do you teach a lesson to somebody who has no idea what you’re saying? It’s definitely challenging. A large number of students may come from Mainland China and some have newly emigrated from other Asian countries, which means your way of teaching English might be something completely strange to them.
Another big challenge is Hong Kong’s education system. You’ll be lucky if you’re in a school that doesn’t enforce constant dictations, drilling, and textbook learning for its standardized tests. Although the NET is usually granted a lot of creative freedom, this can be difficult to balance in a classroom full of students who are used to rote learning and very old-fashioned teaching methods. For this reason, students are often shy, passive, and unwilling to participate in activities that are too different than what they’re used to. Moreover, the class sizes are a lot bigger in Hong Kong than they are in Western countries. In Canada, I would have a maximum of 22 students in a class. In Hong Kong, I’ve had over 40 students in a single class!
Students are often overloaded with tutorial classes and extra-curricular activities in addition to their regular classes and long hours of homework in the evenings. Combined with immense pressure from their parents and the competitiveness of entering post-secondary programs, many suffer from extreme stress and other mental health issues. In Hong Kong culture, it’s shameful to “lose face” in front of others or ask for help. Therefore, many students are suffering and cannot access the support and counseling that they need. For these reasons, Hong Kong has a relatively high suicide rate among youngsters. It can be difficult working in such an environment.
The NET Community
Although you may be the only NET in your school, you’re not alone. There are many communities for teachers such as Facebook groups, WhatsApp chats, and online forums where NETs can communicate with each other. NESTA (Native English Speaking Teacher Association) holds social events every month and advocates on behalf of NETs when issues arise.
The NET section also provides many professional development opportunities such as cluster meetings and workshops. You can meet other teachers and learn useful skills to bring back to your school. In addition, the EBD offers various competitions for students to enter, such as Speak Out - Act Up (drama competition), Filmit (film competition), and Hands-on Stage (puppetry competition).
What are you waiting for?
I had never taught ESL until I joined the NET Scheme and came to Hong Kong. If it’s your first time teaching abroad, it’s a great path to take. Since you’re employed directly through the Hong Kong government, you can rest assured that you’ll be placed in legitimate schools and be treated with respect and professionalism.
If you’re yearning for a change of pace, wanting to broaden your teaching experiences, or simply looking for an adventure, you should definitely check out the NET Scheme in Hong Kong.
For more information about the NET Scheme in Hong Kong, visit the EDB website.
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