Hong Kong NETs – foreign teachers of English – forced to take allegiance oath


Foreign English-language teachers working in Hong Kong government schools will need to swear allegiance to the city, officials have ordered, as fears grow about the territory’s ability to retain educators in the face of increasing restrictions.

Hong Kong’s education bureau said on Saturday that native-speaking English teachers (NETs) and advisers working in government-run schools must sign a declaration by 21 June in order to continue working.

Since 2020, Hong Kong has applied oath-taking requirements to an increasing number of jobs, mainly those in the public sector, as a way to fulfil Chinese government demands of loyalty.

NETs must declare they will bear allegiance to Hong Kong and uphold the Basic Law – the city’s constitutional text – as well as being responsible to the government.

“Neglect, refusal or failure” to sign the declaration would lead to contract termination, authorities said.

The new declaration would “further safeguard and promote the core values that should be upheld by all government employees” and ensure effective governance, a government spokesperson said.

NETs are normally hired on renewable two-year contracts, with monthly salaries that begin at around HK$32,000 (US$4,100/£3,300) and can go as high as HK$74,000.

Hong Kong introduced the NET program in 1997 to improve students’ language skills, and has gradually made NETs a standard feature in primary and secondary schools.

In addition to market-beating salaries, NETs receive government allowances and other incentives to ensure retention, which has been a growing problem in recent years.

In April, the government reported that 13% of NETs in secondary schools left in the 2020-21 school year, the highest figure in five years.

Officials, however, said retention and attrition rates of NETs had been “largely stable”.

The city education chief, Kevin Yeung, has denied that growing numbers of NETs have left due to Hong Kong’s strict zero-Covid strategy.

“There are no substantial grounds for attributing the departure of NETs or their decision to or not to come to teach in Hong Kong to our compulsory quarantine measure,” he told lawmakers in April.

Some teachers have expressed fears about the city’s political climate, as Beijing remoulds Hong Kong in its authoritarian image.

The loyalty requirement was first imposed on civil servants in October 2020, and then extended to government staff hired on contract seven months later.

“National security education” has been made a priority in schools and some teachers have said they now avoid sensitive topics such as the 1989 Tiananmen crackdown.

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