Subject: education, Native-speaking English Teacher Scheme

  • The language education policy of the Hong Kong Government aims at nurturing students to become "biliterate and trilingual", i.e. be proficient in writing Chinese and English, and able to communicate confidently in Cantonese, Putonghua and English. With regard to English language education, the Government considers it important for the Hong Kong people to maintain a high level of proficiency in the English language in order to sustain Hong Kong's status as an international city.
  • The findings of a study released by the University of Hong Kong ("the HKU Study") in August 2015 indicated that 62% of the sampled residents aged 12 and above claimed that they could speak English. Nevertheless, the HKU Study estimated that only about 27% and 24% of the respondents were proficient i.e. being rated "quite well, well or very well" in oral English and written English respectively based on objective assessments. In addition, only about 2% and 5% of the respondents were rated "very well" in the two English language skills respectively. The findings throw light on the English language standard in Hong Kong which has been an issue of concern for some time.
  • According to the Government, it has been implementing various support measures for improving the teaching and learning of the English language in primary and secondary schools. These measures include supporting professional development programmes for primary and secondary English teachers, and the implementation of the fine-tuned medium of instruction arrangements in secondary schools. Besides, the Government has since the late 1990s implemented a native-speaking English teacher ("NET") scheme in schools to boost students' English language standard.
  • This issue of Essentials briefly outlines the NET Scheme in Hong Kong with reference to similar schemes implemented in other Asian places such as South Korea, Taiwan and Japan. It also draws reference to the experience of some European countries where English is taught as a foreign language without adopting any NET schemes. The experience of Singapore in implementing its bilingual education policy, which has been considered a success, is outlined in the next issue of Essentials entitled "Language policy in Singapore".

Native-speaking English Teacher Scheme in Hong Kong

Evaluation of the Native-speaking English Teacher Scheme

  • Between 1998 and 2008, the Education Bureau commissioned three large-scale evaluation studies on the NET Scheme. While a new round of large-scale evaluation study on the NET Scheme for primary schools commenced in December 2014, the results have not yet been published. According to the previous evaluation studies, the NET Scheme led to some gains in English language proficiency of the students and enhanced their positive attitude towards learning English.
  • Nonetheless, the previous large-scale evaluation studies pointed out some limitations of the NET Scheme such as (a) limited opportunities for students to interact with NET, particularly if the school's only NET had been deployed to teach different classes and levels; and (b) limited opportunities for NETs to introduce new teaching practices to secondary schools due to a special focus being placed on test scores and examination results by the English departments of schools and the perceived peripheral role of NETs to the improvement of examination performance of students.5Legend symbol denoting See The University of Melbourne (2007 & 2009).
  • The evaluation studies also pointed out that authentic language experiences involved more than classroom textbook-related activities. Students' English language proficiency was positively related to factors such as their attitude towards learning and using English, opportunities to practise English outside school, access to English books at home and positive support from parents.
  • The recent HKU Study provided an indication on the English language environment of Hong Kong. The Study found that only 11% and 22% of the respondents used English regularly to communicate with their family members and their friends respectively. The proportion of respondents having regular exposure to various English media was also small, with only 6% of respondents reporting "very often" reading English newspapers or magazines, 9% for English-language books and 26% for English-language movies. In the light of the findings of the HKU Study and the evaluation studies on the NET Scheme, while great importance has been attached to the learning and use of the English language, opportunities to widely use English in daily life and at school are still quite limited in Hong Kong.
  • In view of the limitations of the NET Scheme, some stakeholders have suggested that the Government should provide additional NETs to schools. However, there have been views on giving schools the discretion to continue the Scheme or deploy the resources for improving English teaching and learning under other initiatives.

Native-speaking English Teacher schemes in other Asian places

Recent development

Teaching and learning English as a foreign language in Europe

  • English has been a commonly taught foreign language in many European countries. A survey on secondary students' foreign language competence conducted by the European Commission in 16 European countries/communities in 2011 ("the European survey on language competence") indicated that in most of the countries/communities studied, less than 10% of the English language teacher had English as their first language (i.e. a language spoken at home before the age of five). Nonetheless, the survey observed that whether the taught language was the teachers' first language did not have any clear effects on the students' language test performance.
  • The European survey on language competence further revealed that students' foreign language proficiency was positively related to parameters including exposure and use of the language during lessons and through different media such as books, movies and websites; students' perceived usefulness of the foreign language; and parents' knowledge of the foreign language.

The case of the Netherlands


  • The NET schemes implemented in Hong Kong and other Asian places are observed to have some impacts on enhancing students' oral communication and instilling positive attitude towards learning English among students. However, the evaluation studies also indicate a peripheral role of NETs to the English curriculums in Hong Kong and other Asian places whose education systems are more examination-oriented. Opportunities for students to interact with NETs at school are also limited. All these might undermine the effectiveness of the schemes.
  • The experience of European countries in teaching English as a foreign language reflects that students need to see the relevance of learning English in their daily life to enhance learning effectiveness. It is also noteworthy that informal learning opportunities outside school such as exposure to various English media and practising the language in their daily life are important in boosting students' language skills.

Prepared by Ivy CHENG
Research Office
Information Services Division
Legislative Council Secretariat
23 September 2015


1.The Education Commission Report Number Six published in 1996 recommended the introduction of a NET scheme as one of a series of measures to address the issue of declining language proficiency of students and the shortfall in the number of trained LETs in Hong Kong. Subsequently, the then Chief Executive announced the introduction of the NET Scheme in his 1997 Policy Address.

2.According to the Government, one NET post is normally allocated to every public sector primary school operating six or more classes. There is no such requirement for public sector secondary schools.

3.The duties of NETs in Hong Kong include assisting the design of the school-based English language curriculum, developing learning and teaching materials, organizing co-curricular activities and fostering the professional development of English teachers.

4.In the 2014-2015 school year, a total of 459 public sector primary schools and 408 public sector secondary schools in Hong Kong participated in the NET Scheme, engaging a total of 455 and 403 NETs respectively. The NET posts of some eligible schools were not filled temporarily due to reasons such as the appointed NETs not reporting duty as scheduled.

5.See The University of Melbourne (2007 & 2009).

6.According to the results of the International English Language Testing System ("IELTS") in 2013, the English language performance of academic candidates in South Korea, Taiwan and Japan lagged behind those in Hong Kong. IELTS is a test of English language proficiency in listening, reading, writing and speaking. The results provide an indicator of candidates' ability to communicate in English for education, immigration and professional accreditation, and are accepted by many organizations worldwide.

7.The NET scheme in South Korea, i.e. English Programme in Korea, was launched in 1995 as one of the measures to support the then education reform. The Ministry of Education has promoted a "one NET per school policy" in each primary and secondary school since 2005. The programme is co-sponsored by the Ministry of Education and the local Provincial Offices of Education.

8.The NET scheme in Japan, i.e. the Japan Exchange and Teaching Programme, was introduced in 1987 to promote internationalization of Japan's local communities by improving foreign language education and developing international exchange. NETs are appointed by local government organizations and the terms and conditions of appointment are set by each local government.

9.The Netherlands government has recently planned to introduce bilingual education in primary schools. It launched a bilingual education pilot project in 12 primary schools in the 2014-2015 school year.

10.According to the European survey on language competence, Dutch secondary schools spent two to three hours per week on teaching English as a language subject on average. The English language teachers generally put more emphasis on developing students' reading and listening skills, followed by speaking skills. Relatively less emphasis was put on writing skills. The survey also indicated that the median class size of English classes in Dutch secondary schools was 25.


Hong Kong

1.Bacon-Shone, J. et al. (2015) Language Use, Proficiency and Attitudes in Hong Kong.

2.Carless, D. R. (2006) Good practices in team teaching in Japan, South Korea and Hong Kong. System, vol. 34(3), pp. 341-351.

3.Education Bureau. (2007) Evaluation of the Primary NET Scheme - Key Messages.

4.Education Bureau. (2014) The Latest Development of the Native-speaking English Teacher ("NET") Scheme.

5.Education Bureau. (2015) Replies to initial written questions raised by Finance Committee Members in examining the Estimates of Expenditure 2015-16.

6.GovHK. (2014) LCQ22: Hong Kong people's English standard.

7.The Hong Kong Institute of Education. (2001) Monitoring & Evaluation of the Native-speaking English Teacher Scheme (MENETS).

8.The University of Melbourne. (2007) Evaluation of the Native-speaking English Teacher Scheme for Primary Schools in Hong Kong 2004-2006.

9.The University of Melbourne. (2009) Evaluation of the Enhanced Native-speaking English Teacher Scheme in Hong Kong Secondary Schools.

10.Wang, L. Y. & Lin T. B. (2013) The representation of professionalism in native English-speaking teachers recruitment policies: A comparative study of Hong Kong, Japan, Korea and Taiwan. English Teaching: Practice and Critique, vol. 12, no. 3, December, pp. 5-22.


11.Bot, K. D. (2014) The effectiveness of early foreign language learning in the Netherlands.

12.Carless, D. R. (2004) JET and EPIK: Comparative Perspectives.

13.European Commission. (2012a) First European Survey on Language Competences.

14.European Commission. (2012b) Key Data on Teaching Languages at School in Europe 2012.

15.European Platform - Internationalising Education. (2013) Bilingual education in Dutch schools: a success story.

16.IELTS. (2013) Test taker performance 2013.

17.Ministry of Education, Republic of China. (2015) Recruitment of Teachers of Foreign Nationality.

18.The Japan Exchange and Teaching Programme (2015).

19.The Korea Herald. (2013) Native English teacher head count continues decline.