Foreign English teachers working at Hong Kong Public schools will need to swear an oath of allegiance to the city, officials have ordered, as concerns grow about the territory’s ability to retain teachers in the face of mounting restrictions.
Hong Kong’s Education Bureau said Saturday that native English-speaking teachers (NETs) and counselors working in government-run schools must sign a declaration by June 21 in order to continue operating.
Since 2020, Hong Kong has applied oath requirements to an increasing number of jobs, particularly those in the public sector, as a way of meeting the Chinese government’s demands for loyalty.
The networks must declare that they will hold allegiance to Hong Kong and abide by the Basic Law – the city’s constitutional text – as well as being accountable to the government.
The authorities said that “negligence, refusal or failure to sign” the declaration would lead to the termination of the contract.
A government spokesman said the new declaration would “further protect and promote the core values that all government employees must uphold” and ensure effective governance.
Netizens are usually hired on two-year renewable contracts, with monthly salaries starting at around HK$32,000 (US$4,100 / £3,300) and can go up to HK$74,000.
Hong Kong introduced .NET in 1997 to improve students’ language skills, and networking has gradually been made a standard feature in primary and secondary schools.
In addition to market-beating salaries, internet networks receive government bonuses and other incentives to ensure their retention, which has been a growing problem in recent years.
In April, the government reported that 13% of secondary school social media networks left in the 2020-21 school year, the highest number in five years.
However, officials said the networks’ retention and attrition rates were “largely stable.”
The city’s head of education, Kevin Young, has denied that increasing numbers of online networks have left due to Hong Kong’s tough strategy to not spread the coronavirus.
“There are no substantial grounds for attributing the departure of the netizens, their decision or not to come to teach in Hong Kong to our mandatory quarantine measures,” he told lawmakers in April.
Some teachers have expressed concerns about the city’s political climate, as Beijing reshapes Hong Kong in its authoritarian image.
The loyalty clause was first imposed on civil servants in October 2020, then extended to contract government employees seven months later.
“National security education” has become a priority in schools and some teachers have said they are now avoiding sensitive topics such as the 1989 Tiananmen crackdown.