Issue No.473
31 May, 2004

Hong Kong Professional Teachers' Union

Failing to see the wood for the trees,
who is going to be accountable for violating
the stability of the teaching profession?

- Cheung Man Kwong' reply to the Ombudsman' report on the arrangement fo surplus teachers

By PTUnews Reporter

On the 21st of May, the Ombudsman published its report on the surplus teachers of government-aided primary schools, criticizing officials for adopting the various measures in the arrangement of surplus teachers; including the identification fo srplus teachers on the basis of "last in, first out", encouraging schools to fill vacant positions by hiring surplus teachers first, and the setting up of the "special supply teachers' category. In the past few years, the shrinking popultaion of the territory complicates the process of helping surplus teachers find new jobs, which has been a joint operation of the Union and the EMB for nearly thirty years. In response fo the criticism, Mr. Cheung Man Kwong, President of the Professional Teachers' Union, claims that the Ombudsman is failing to see the wood for the trees, and completely ignoring the importance of maintaining the stability of the teaching profession so as to preserve the quality of education. In the following interview, Mr. Cheung is going to clarify the rationale behind the existing arrangement of surplus teachers.

R: reporter, C: Cheung Man Kwong

R: The Ombudsman first criticizes that the EMB's practice which requires schools to follow the "last to join, first to go' principle in deciding who is to dismiss, instead of on merit, is depriving young teachers of job opportunity by favouring their experienced colleagues. Do you think the criticism is justified?

C: The "last in, first out" principle has been adopted for years to maintain the identification processs of surplus teachers in an orderly and systematic manner, so as to prevent the process from being exploited and teachers labelled. In a way, it also minimizes the chance of corruption in the process and disputes among teachers. Furthermore, schools can first decide who can stay according to their school-based subject needs, and the remaining ones would then follow the principle in the arrangement.
Teachers with bad performance should only be handled according to the procedure stated in the 毧ode of Aids'. Otherwise, all surplus teachers will be labelled as bad teachers and it is not fair for those long serving and experienced teachers who have done nothing wrong, but been made redundant only because of the falling enrollment.

Moreover, the Union demands EMB to make sure those schools adopting the school-based principle in the arrangment should be open, fair and reasonable throughout the screening process. If not, disputes among teachers upon class-cutting issue will surely appear and thus, affecting the quality of education.

R: What do you think about the Ombudsman's criticism of the EMB's practice of asking schools to fill vacant positions by only hiring surplus teachers for a preferential period is contrary to the school-based principle? Do you agree that such a practice actually increase the anxiety and frustration of the fresh graduates of education as it is difficult for them to get employed?

C: When schools fills vacant positions with surplus teachers, they will recruit them according to their own needs and conditions. It is not in contrary to the school-based principle as the schools have a wide range of freedom in making their decisions. All schools are members of the whole education profession; therefore, the recruitment of teaching staff in a particular school is not simply a matter concerning only the employer and its employees. The recruitment process is bound by the Eduction Regulations and the Code of Aids. In this sense, the arrangement of surplus teachers should be treated as an internal re-deployment within the whole profession. Then, the preferential period is set to help the experienced and dedicated surplus teachers to new positions so that their experience will not be wasted.

Frankly speaking, I am deeply aware of the despair and pressure of both the existing teachers and fresh graduates. It is tragic to see that the Ombudsman is trying to aggravate the conflicts between the two parties, which will cause damages to the profession. Meanwhile, the whole profession is facing the reduction in classes and teaching positions due to the consequence of the shrinking population, we hope that our teachers can concentrate on their own teaching rather than being involved in disputes. Therefore, maintaining the security and stability of teachers' jobs is important in order to enhance the quality of education and is to the best interest of students. Both the existing teachers and fresh graduates of education are members of the same team. In these circumstances, the implementation of small class learning is definitely the solution to achieve a win-win situation. It is a stone killing two birds - not only can it create more job opportunities, it also helps enhancing the quality of education.

R: In the 2002-2003 school year, a category of "special supply teachers' was created through the negotiation between the Union and EMB in the arrangement of surplus teachers. The Ombudsman then criticizes officials for pyaing $9.7 million more "to buy the same service', thus wasting taxpayers' money. What is your reply to this criticism?

C: At this point, the Ombudsman is failing to see the wood for the trees. Education is not a commercial commodity which is valued only in terms of money. The lauching of the "special supply teachers' category was to maintain stablility in the teaching profession. The sum of $9 million is certainly not a small amount; however, it was then relatively "a small price' in preserve the quality of education and students' interest in the long run.

It is not fair for the Ombudsman to say that the category is wasting taxpayers' money. Nearly 80 per cent of the special supply teachers are only paid 65 per cent of their regular salary. The EMB has claimed that all of them are full-time teachers, and so they have other teaching-related duties when they have no lessons. More importantly, these teachers are already in the edge of being unemployed as they are only paid 65 per cent of their salary - plus an allowance only if they work more. The Ombudsman's report actually ahs worsened their scenario. My advice is that all factors should be considered in the arrangement of surplus teachers. Any changes of the present measures might cause a total collapse of the whole arrangement, which will violate stability of the whole profession and sacrifice students' interest. By then, who could be accountable for the consequences.

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