Hong Kong’s education chief has said the government will “gradually expand” the scope of its Basic Law test to cover more schools and teachers, after he revealed that over 70 per cent of candidates had passed the first round of the exams held for public sector teachers.

Kevin Yeung
Secretary for Education Kevin Yeung. File photo: Kelly Ho/HKFP.

Starting from the 2022-23 school year, newly-appointed teachers in all public sector schools have to pass the Basic Law examination before they can secure their appointment.

During a Legislative Council meeting held on Wednesday, lawmaker Horace Cheung asked the city’s Secretary for Education Kevin Yeung about the number of educators who had fulfilled the new entry requirement, and whether the authorities will roll out additional tests if the number of successful candidates fails to meet school demands.

Yeung said that around 5,400 people had applied for the first round of the Basic Law test held in January and about 80 per cent of them attended the exam. Of the approximately 4,200 attendees, Yeung said over 70 per cent had passed the test.

In addition, Yeung said a second round of tests was rescheduled to May 21 from late February because of the fifth-wave Covid-19 outbreak. Eighty per cent of 9,100 applicants attended. He added that the candidates will receive their results between late May and early June.

Secretary for Jutice teaching basic law to teachers
The Secretary for Justice Teresa Cheng speaks at a joint school teachers’ professional development day for 33 primary schools and kindergartens on December 13, highlighting the importance of the Constitution, the Basic Law, safeguarding national security and the improved electoral system. File photo: GovHK.

The education chief said teachers’ words and deeds have a far-reaching impact on students’ growth, so educators should have “a correct understanding” of the mini-constitution. “[S]o that they can enlighten students and help them correctly understand the constitutional status of Hong Kong and develop positive attitudes towards the Basic Law and one country, two systems,” Yeung said.

basic law
Basic Law.

According to Yeung, the government does not expect the new entry requirement will lead to recruitment difficulties among schools.

However, one woman, who will soon enter the profession but requested anonymity out of fear for her job, told HKFP that she resented having to do the test. She said the requirement was preventing some educators from switching schools: “[I]t seems that some schools see it as more important than the language proficiency exams for language teachers,” she said via text message.

“I feel a lot of us do this just for the sake of getting the job – not really for understanding the meaning of these laws. And we are just happy to get a pass.”

‘Gradually expand’

On Wednesday, lawmaker Cheung followed up by asking whether the government will require the test for teachers in other schools such as kindergartens or those under the Direct Subsidy Scheme. He also asked about enacting the requirement for substitute teachers or Native English Teachers.

Kevin Yeung in kindergarten
The Secretary for Education, Kevin Yeung visits a kindergarten on October 18, 2018. File photo: GovHK

In response, Yeung said the government will review the format, content and scope of the examination, adding that they will “consider in detail” whether different categories of school or teachers should face similar entry requirements. “Overall, the policy direction is to gradually expand the scope,” he said.

Another lawmaker, Lillian Kwok, said in the meeting that she had learnt that some non-Chinese teachers were concerned about whether they could obtain a pass in the Basic Law exams and asked whether the authorities could provide the pass rate of non-Chinese candidates.

Yeung said they did not have the figures, adding that “the language barrier should not become a concern” for the group because an English version of the examination paper was available.

The education chief said the examination was required among all public sector school teachers because they saw that “the Basic Law has an important place in education and there is a need to gradually guide students to understand the Basic Law.”

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Peter Lee is a reporter for HKFP. He was previously a freelance journalist at Initium, covering political and court news. He holds a Global Communication bachelor degree from CUHK.