Dr Christine Choi
Under Secretary for Education
The prospect of individuals, the well-being of families, the future of nations and peoples, and the progress of civilisations all hinge on education. On the shoulders of teachers is an immense and lasting responsibility. To take on this, educators must be professionally competent and well-cultivated. Recently, there have been a lot of discussions over the professional ethics of teachers. How should we perceive teaching as a profession? How should we handle complaints involving teachers? And how should we maintain the professionalism of the teaching force?
Respect and expectations for teachers
The success of Hong Kong’s education can be ascribed to the contribution of a professional and committed teaching force. Our society and families attach great importance to education. We are grateful to teachers and at the same time have high expectations for them. As a Chinese saying goes, “Teachers are someone who preach truths, and their teaching will only be valued if they are able to command respect.” Such respect grows from our regard for good teaching, without which teachers are no longer able to earn respect. In today’s society, telling lies and cursing others may not necessarily have legal consequences, but such behaviours are absolutely not consistent with the professional ethics of teachers. Teachers are expected to teach by their words and deeds. Their character and personality is the collective reflection of their knowledge, attitudes and values. If a teacher talked about the importance of morals and ethics before students but displayed hatred and discrimination in his private life, can we possibly assume that his teaching would not be affected? When he himself had little regard for values and norms, can we rely on him to inspire and help students to uphold these? Not to mention offering guidance to students in respect of conduct. Preaching truths, imparting knowledge and dispelling doubts are more than just a job. Teaching is never an easy task, but when a teacher earns the lifelong respect of his students by dedicated teaching, the satisfaction that it yields will certainly outweigh what tangible things can give.
School-based autonomy and professional accountability
Teachers have been devolved more power since educational reforms. With a greater degree of professional autonomy, they may participate in curriculum development; and within the scope of school-based curriculum, they may adjust learning materials and teaching strategies to cater for students’ diverse learning needs according to the curriculum guides, their school’s vision and students’ characteristics. This is to enable teachers to elevate the quality of teaching by capitalising on the flexibility of curriculum design and their schools’ self-improvement mechanism and giving full play to the spirit of professional autonomy and accountability.
In recent years, the world has been experiencing unprecedented changes, and Hong Kong is no exception. Both our traditional morals and teaching profession are being extensively challenged. The development of school-based curriculum counts on professional autonomy and accountability to ensure that school-based teaching is being directed towards excellence. The school-based mechanism for exercising professionalism will be “hijacked” if a teacher intends to distort facts and mislead students by using inappropriate teaching materials to promote his personal political views to students and disseminate incorrect information, biased views, or even contents which contain hatred and discrimination that go against social morality. Such abuse of the flexibility allowed in adjustments in teaching is absolutely unacceptable.
Gate-keeping with stringent measures
The Education Bureau (EDB) attaches great importance to the professionalism and conduct of teachers. To ensure that students receive quality education, the EDB has the responsibility to monitor the implementation of policies and curriculum under the established mechanism and maintain the quality of school management and teaching profession, with a view to safeguarding public confidence in education. While the EDB promotes good educational practices, commends teachers for professional excellence and pays tribute to teachers every year on Teachers’ Day, serious follow-up actions will be taken against complaints involving teachers alleged to have misbehaved or committed an act of professional misconduct. Should there be an obvious breach of the society’s moral norms in words or deeds in such a way that students’ normal learning, healthy development or safety are jeopardised, the EDB will take appropriate actions against teachers who fail to meet the requirements in accordance with the Education Ordinance to ensure that the teaching force consists of fit and proper persons only. Such actions may range from the issue of advisory, warning and reprimand letters to cancellation of teacher registration.
The EDB has established a mechanism and procedures for handling complaints to ensure that the teachers concerned have full opportunities for making representations and self-defence. To start with, the EDB will request the school concerned to conduct an investigation during which the teacher involved will be invited to give a verbal explanation or make a written representation. The school will also meet with other people concerned and examine relevant documents as necessary, and then submit an investigation report to the EDB. The EDB will examine carefully the content of the report, investigation procedures and the response of the teacher involved. The case will be concluded if the allegation cannot be substantiated with evidence. On the contrary, if there is evidence suggesting that the allegation could be substantiated, the teacher will be allowed to make a written representation within a reasonable timeframe. Afterwards, a final decision with supporting evidence and in line with the spirit of professionalism will be made. The EDB is the authority for formulation, implementation and monitoring of policies. Taking appropriate actions against teachers in breach of professional conduct and seeking improvements are acts to fulfill our responsibilities for the teaching profession, schools, students, parents and the entire education sector. For teachers who have severely misconducted themselves or breached their professional ethics, their teacher registration must be cancelled in order to safeguard the well-being of students and the education profession. Teachers whose registration is so cancelled may lodge an appeal under the Education Ordinance if they feel aggrieved. In sum, the EDB’s regulation of education matters under prudent procedures and by measured and reasonable means is out of the dire need to supervise and protect. Even though investigations may take a longer time to complete and there may be hiccups in the process, fairness can be achieved for all parties.
Teachers’ professionalism and conduct are the key to the quality of education. Efforts to handle complaints, follow up on such cases and invoke the disciplinary and appeal mechanisms seek to remove from the teaching profession members who are not fit or proper and ensure the healthy development of the next generation. Education issues must be resolved through education professionalism. A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step, and we are, step by step, getting education back on the right track.
20 October 2020