• There had been a change in the nature of pedagogy related to English language learning, but there was still a rigid concentration on exam preparation in many of the schools.
• Students had shown an increased willingness to speak and read English and follow the English media which could be seen as indicators of a change in their attitudes to learning English.
• The objective of the ENET Scheme to increase students’ exposure to the culture of English-speaking countries and improve their awareness of world issues appeared to have been successfully met. In general, Hong Kong students were thought to be more comfortable with Western people than was the case prior to inception of the Scheme.
• The ENET Scheme was believed to be particularly influential in CMI schools.
• The importance of English to the economy of Hong Kong and its social fabric was being given recognition by the ENET Scheme
• Parents were positively disposed to the ENET Scheme - schools needed to deploy NETs as an assurance to parents of their commitment to the English curriculum.
• The schools were committed to their support of the ENET Scheme and saw it as filling an important role in the implementation of the NSS curriculum.
4.2 School Principals
The Principals provided a list of positive outcomes of the ENET Scheme from their perspective:
• Increased opportunities for students to enjoy learning English. The Scheme helped to shift the emphasis of the English program from learning to pass exams to learning to communicate in English.
• The NETs were viewed as giving more encouragement to students’ attempts to use English than local teachers. Principals claimed that local teachers tended to correct even small grammatical errors in language and focus on deficits, but the NETs shifted focus to the power of English as a tool of communication.
• The Scheme had given the students exposure to English language and people from English-speaking countries. It enabled them to hear native English spoken within a Chinese context. This was seen as particularly beneficial within the CMI schools.
• A valued effect was the growth in confidence of local teachers to use English.
The Principals made a number of recommendations for the future of the ENET Scheme, with particular emphasis upon the way that the ENET Scheme was implemented in schools. They argued that, for the Scheme to be effective, more NETs would be required in schools. They also felt that both Principals and Panel Chairs would benefit from advice to help them understand how best to support their NETs and gain the most benefit from the Scheme for their students.
4.3 English Panel Chairs
As a group, the English Panel Chairs suggested that the overall impact of the ENET Scheme was that:
• Better standards of English provided Hong Kong with an economic advantage
• NETs had provided an authentic environment for the use of English in schools, by exposing students and teachers to the idioms, accents and diversity of English.
• NETs provided a language rich English environment.
Some of the Panel Chairs reasoned that, without a NET in the school, exposure to English diminished in both quality and quantity until the language use within the school became exclusively Cantonese. Several Panel Chairs also believed that there was a link between access to a NET and improved opportunities to study at tertiary level for students, although they cited no evidence for this assertion.
Many of the NETs argued that the return on investment in the ENET Scheme should be considered in terms of Hong Kong’s role as an economic force in the Asian region, and its competitive advantage in relation to other countries in the region. The NETs reflected on their understanding that they had been deployed to address a perceived slide in English standards.
Most agreed that all Hong Kong students needed to have opportunities to achieve basic competence in English, and that the ENET Scheme played a central role in achieving this ideal.
4.5 Heterogeneous Groups
One of the heterogeneous groups devoted some time to consideration of the value of the ENET Scheme to Hong Kong and the changes that had come about due to its implementation in schools. Members of this group noted that, since the inception of the Scheme, there had been demonstrable changes in the English curriculum and in the way in which English was taught. They drew attention to changes in the use and distribution of resources, and argued that the Education Department and school leadership initiated change but that this was followed by individual NETs supporting change in schools.
Reflecting back ten or more years, it was noted that some areas of Hong Kong had been populated by squatters living in conditions of poverty. Members of the group asserted that the opportunity for students in such communities to develop English skills was nearly non-existent. They argued that the deployment of NETs had wrought considerable positive change for these students.
The parent representative in this group said that it was difficult to imagine the system without the ENET Scheme. He regarded it as an indispensable component of the education system in Hong Kong. Similarly, the Panel Chairs in the group saw the Scheme as essential and voiced the opinion that Hong Kong people would be less capable in English and therefore less economically secure without the ENET Scheme.
Thus, the overall view was that, without the ENET Scheme, the English language skills of Hong Kong people would decline in quality. There would be an economic impact on Hong Kong and, if the Scheme were to be lost to the system, an alternative way of improving and sustaining English language development would have to be found.
There were several important benefits to Hong Kong that, in the opinion of the participants in each of the heterogeneous discussion groups, were directly or indirectly attributable to the ENET Scheme:
• There had been a noticeable improvement in English standards in schools and, by extension, in the Hong Kong community although there was a belief that the examination system had not allowed this to be demonstrated.
• English proficiency was recognized as important from a commercial and social point of view, so that Hong Kong could remain competitive with other Asian economies such as Singapore and Japan.
• The Scheme gave the Hong Kong teachers and students valuable, accessible and authentic exposure to other cultures and other teaching and learning strategies. A major benefit of NETs to the schools was the internationalization of the school and the cultural exchanges that took place. The Scheme provided opportunities to exchange language and cultural activities, ideas and innovations across cultures and across languages.
• Resources and facilities for teaching English had improved in schools, and the ways in which teachers used resources had altered as a result of the ENET Scheme. NETs were valued for their ability to model new and different teaching strategies.
• Community concern over perceived falling English standards had caused a drop in morale for many local English teachers. Sensitively deployed, access to the professional support of a NET was seen as one way to provide local teachers with new ideas and to lift their self-confidence as teachers.
• The ENET Scheme was valued for its ability to foster collaborative and reciprocal professional development between local teachers and NETs. However, it was acknowledged that this needed to find culturally appropriate avenues of expression to be of most benefit.
• There was increased excitement and motivation among students, with an associated impact on their willingness and confidence to use English inside and outside school. Reduction of fear of using English among the local students and teachers was an important contribution of the ENET Scheme.
• The Scheme was praised for fostering an experiential rather than examination-driven approach to teaching. This was seen as a “work in progress” for many schools where preparation for the public examinations still dominated the English syllabus. NETs were seen as championing the concept of English as a skill to be acquired and enjoyed, rather than English as an examination subject to be studied and passed.
• Schools were proud to deploy a NET, and felt some loss of prestige if they did not include at least one NET on their English teaching staff.
Perhaps the most telling comments about the impact of the ENET Scheme, from more than one group, were that there were both tangible and intangible benefits to Hong Kong, and acknowledgment of the value-added nature of the Scheme to the education system and broader community. To build on this idea, it was suggested that Principals and NETs could examine the question: “What can the NETs do to add value to Hong Kong, and to education in Hong Kong, and how can school leaders build in procedures to maximize these benefits?”
One group concluded their discussion by agreeing that the most important return from the ENET Scheme was a change in the culture of the schools, even though this change was difficult and sometimes painful. But, as one of the Panel Chairs asked, “How else could change come about?” The NET, as an “accessible foreigner”, could introduce change to the schools in ways that were not possible for local teachers. In summary, the participants in