It is first essential to understand that there are two very different types of school in Hong Kong, the state-run schools and international schools such as ourselves. Firstly, we will briefly address the significant differences between the state schools, which are hugely different from the UK, with approximately 25% of secondary school teachers not being university graduates. Hence, the standard of teaching is generally a lot lower.
Thankfully, at international schools in Hong Kong, such as at Harrow, all teaching staff are university graduates and have the relevant teaching qualifications such as a PGCE. Of course, this is more relevant to students and parents than teachers, but in this article, we will explore the similarities and differences of teaching in Hong Kong compared to the UK. If you are considering teaching in Hong Kong, hopefully, this will give you some useful insight into what to expect.
Special Administrative Region of China
Hong Kong is still part of China, but individuals have far more freedom than their counterparts on the mainland. Thanks to its close links to the UK, you will immediately realise that the infrastructure and administration, in many respects, are similar to the UK and communicating in English is straightforward. However, as it is over 20 years since Hong Kong was handed back to China in 1997, the western influence is diminishing. Hong Kong has very much its own culture and this is evident in all aspects of life, especially in education.
Attitudes to Learning
As you would find in any elite international schools around the world, students are typically more interested in learning than they are in the UK. For the most part, even younger pupils, they appreciate the opportunity that has been presented to them. Hong Kong Chinese students, tend to find international schools more relaxed than the high-pressure, high-intensity learning, which they will have experienced at state schools. However, their ethos of working hard sets an excellent example to others.
As an international school, as is the case in the UK, we believe in offering a balanced education, and this includes pastoral and vocational studies rather than purely academic. In this sense, teaching in Hong Kong is very similar to the UK, and broadly speaking the curriculum will be very similar. However, in many ways, this is where the similarities end.
Students who are falling behind will get more support than in the UK, thanks to the excellent support staff that we have. Pupils who excel at subjects will also be given the help that they require to maximise their potential. Teachers have more time to spend with individual students and this something that most find very rewarding.
Unless you previously taught at a public school in the UK, you will notice that there is an incredible difference in the levels of autonomy that the school is afforded compared to the UK. Within reason, international schools in Hong Kong have the flexibility to teach students how they deem fit. It is hugely beneficial for students and in many respects, makes teaching far more enjoyable without working to a rigid framework which is has a “one size fits all” format which is often not appropriate for most pupils. This autonomy allows us to focus in on what students’ need, which, more often than not, produces far higher grades.
The facilities and many international schools are on a different level to those at schools in the UK, and at Harrow Hong Kong, we are no exception. The facilities and the equipment which is available at a teacher’s disposal make teaching easier and, of course, more fun. Students tend to respond well in lessons when they are using the latest and best equipment rather than having to make do with something that is perhaps older than they are!
When it comes to sports facilities, once again, it is impossible to compare what is available at an international school in Hong Kong, to those available at the vast majority of schools in the UK. It creates opportunities for those students who enjoy sport to really excel, with the best facilities and first-class coaching. For teachers who love sports, the facilities are always available to them too.
Out of School Clubs
Although out of school clubs are common in the UK, they are more heavily promoted at schools in Hong Kong. Teachers are expected to play an active role in extracurricular activities such as sports, music, arts and craft and languages. With pupils enthusiastic about learning, most teachers find this involvement a pleasure and are happy to be a part of them. The activities do tend to be well attended and once again, make use of the superb facilities.
From a professional point of view, although staff turnover is relatively low, jobs opportunities frequently present themselves. It means that ambitious teachers can further their careers, perhaps becoming heads of department or faculty. This is naturally very rewarding for teachers as their efforts are recognised, while at the same time, it gives them the opportunity to progress up the pay scale. Of course, take-home salaries at international schools in Hong Kong are considerably higher than in the UK.
When you decide to take the leap and work abroad, this is typically because of both professional and social reasons. The social aspects of living in Hong Kong are excellent with plenty to see and do. Teachers and their families tend to mix together out of school, and there is a strong expat community in Hong Kong. Making new friends, experiencing new cultures and just having the opportunity to travel is entirely different to the UK, and is one of the main reasons why people choose to teach abroad.
Returning to the UK
Some teachers view a move to Hong Kong as something which they will do before returning to the UK, while others see in more as a long-term move. If you are planning to return to the UK after doing your stint overseas, you won’t have to worry about finding a new job. Indeed, your experience will no doubt make you a better teacher, and high-quality schools will recognise this. It is something that looks great on your CV if and when you decide to return.