Understanding mainland Chinese students' motivations for choosing teacher education programmes in Hong Kong

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  • This article was downloaded by: [Chinese University of Hong Kong]On: 20 December 2014, At: 20:23Publisher: RoutledgeInforma Ltd Registered in England and Wales Registered Number: 1072954 Registeredoffice: Mortimer House, 37-41 Mortimer Street, London W1T 3JH, UK

    Journal of Education for Teaching:International research and pedagogyPublication details, including instructions for authors andsubscription information:http://www.tandfonline.com/loi/cjet20

    Understanding mainland Chinesestudents' motivations for choosingteacher education programmes in HongKongXuesong Gao a & John Trent aa Department of English , Hong Kong Institute of Education , 10 LoPing Road, Taipo, New Territories, Hong KongPublished online: 20 Apr 2009.

    To cite this article: Xuesong Gao & John Trent (2009) Understanding mainland Chinese students'motivations for choosing teacher education programmes in Hong Kong, Journal of Education forTeaching: International research and pedagogy, 35:2, 145-159

    To link to this article: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/02607470902771037

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  • Understanding mainland Chinese students motivations for choosingteacher education programmes in Hong Kong

    Xuesong Gao* and John Trent

    Department of English, Hong Kong Institute of Education, 10 Lo Ping Road, Taipo, NewTerritories, Hong Kong

    (Received 11 August 2008; resubmitted 5 January 2009; accepted 7 January 2009)

    In this paper, we report on an inquiry exploring the experiences of 10 mainlandChinese student teachers of English so as to understand why they came to HongKong for a teacher education programme. The study revealed that these studentswere largely attracted to teaching in Hong Kong because of its extrinsic benefitssuch as professional stability, the prestige associated with the English languageteaching profession and the opportunities to acquire valued skills transferable toother professions including English competence. Facing challenges as non-localstudents, they were also uncertain of becoming teachers in the new context. Aselite Chinese students were often unwilling to become teachers, we found itstrategic to attract a large number of talented non-local students to the teachingprofession and retain them. We conclude the paper with recommendations forvarious stakeholders to support these non-local students adaptation anddevelopment as committed and competent teachers in local schools.

    Keywords: motivation; pre-service student teachers; the biographic method;mainland Chinese students; English medium tertiary education

    Introduction

    Since the late 1970s an unprecedented number of students from the Chinese

    mainland have gone abroad to pursue English medium higher education, often in

    search of opportunities to improve their linguistic competence and advance socially

    (Gu and Schweisfurth 2006; Li and Bray 2007; Tan and Simpson 2008). In recent

    years, English medium tertiary institutions in Hong Kong have attracted an

    increasing number of mainland Chinese applicants (Li and Bray 2007; Gao 2008a).

    In 2008, 12,000 mainland Chinese school graduates applied to study at the

    University of Hong Kong, the leading English medium university in the region

    (Singtao Daily 2008a). Hong Kong Institute of Education (the Institute), the local

    teacher training institution, has also attracted a large number of applications

    (Singtao Daily 2008b). For instance, the number of mainland Chinese students

    enrolled at the Department of English has risen steadily from eight in the academic

    year of 20052006 to 35 in the following year. In 20072008, mainland Chinese

    students (73 of them) made up over 57% of the student intake in the Department. As

    a rule, mainland Chinese applicants who are qualified for first-tier mainland

    universities could submit applications to tertiary institutions funded by the

    University Grant Committee (UGC, Hong Kong), including the Institute.

    *Corresponding author. Email: xsgao@ied.edu.hk

    Journal of Education for Teaching

    Vol. 35, No. 2, May 2009, 145159

    ISSN 0260-7476 print/ISSN 1360-0540 online

    # 2009 Taylor & FrancisDOI: 10.1080/02607470902771037

    http://www.informaworld.com

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  • Such enthusiasm for teacher training programmes among mainland Chinese

    applicants, however, contradicts findings of elite Chinese students unwillingness to

    become teachers in previous research (Gordon 2000; Lai et al. 2005; Su et al. 2001;

    Zhou and Reed 2005). It is also surprising to see that heavy financial costs do not

    seem to discourage these elite students from applying to study at the Institute as

    most of these students pay US$15,000 for tuition and minimal living costs each year.

    In addition, mainland Chinese students face challenges unique to them as non-local

    student teachers, including learning through English at the Institute as well as

    surviving and succeeding in local schools. Hong Kong is a multilingual context with

    Cantonese as the language for daily life and socialisation, English widely used in

    business and higher education, and Putonghua (a language of rising importance

    since the political change in 1997), which is founded on the Mandarin dialect as used

    in Beijing (Davison and Lai 2007; Evans 2000; Lai 2001). Yet, most of the mainland

    Chinese students speak Putonghua and only a small number speak Cantonese.

    Considering the shortage of qualified teachers, in particular English teachers, in

    Hong Kong schools (Morris 2004), the influx of these students to Hong Kongs

    teacher education programmes has created uncertainty as to the future of teacher

    supply in the Hong Kong school system. Given the lack of research on non-local

    students motivations for choosing to teach in schools, this paper reports on an

    inquiry exploring a group of mainland Chinese student teachers prior experiences so

    as to understand why they came to Hong Kong for teacher education programmes.

    Motivations for choosing to teach

    Motivation affects student teachers choice to become teachers, drives them to learn

    and achieve their professional goals, and retains them in the teaching profession

    against adverse experiences and conditions (Sinclair 2008). Individuals are attracted

    to the teaching profession for various reasons. Kyriacou and Kobori (1998, 345)

    classified the reasons students choose to become English language teachers into three

    groups:

    (1) Altruistic reasons refer to individuals perceptions of teaching as a socially

    important job and desires to help society and children improve through

    teaching.

    (2) Intrinsic reasons are how the job itself attracts individuals to teach, including

    their interest in using their knowledge of a particular subject.

    (3) Extrinsic reasons are related to the attractions external to the teaching

    including pay and holidays (see also Kyriacou and Coulthard 2000; Lai

    et al. 2005; Manuel and Hughes 2006).

    Research in many contexts concludes that teaching is not an attractive profession

    because it is normally regarded as a profession with less job security, low pay and

    prestige, subordinate status, limited career opportunities (Sinclair 2008, 79).

    Echoing many of these negative associations, research has established a complex

    picture of Chinese attitudes towards the teaching profession. On the one hand, the

    teaching profession has been considered highly respectable. In traditional Chinese

    cultural discourses, teachers enjoy high social status and are regarded as being in the

    same league as other key cultural figures, including heaven, earth, the emperor and

    parents (Cleverley 1991; Fwu and Wang 2002; Gao 2008b; Schoenhals 1993).

    146 X. Gao and J. Trent

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  • On the other hand, studies have revealed a widespread unwillingness among

    Chinese students to become school teachers (Gordon 2000; Lai et al. 2005; Su et al.

    2001; Zhou and Reed 2005). Gordons study on Asian minority students in the USA,

    largely of Chinese ethnic origin, identified that the participants did not wish to

    become teachers even though they attributed their academic success to their teachers

    effort. In Hong Kong, Lai et al. (2005) found that high-school students ranked

    teaching third among their 20 most wanted and most respected occupations.

    However, it was also found that students in schools with low university admission

    rates and from families with low monthly household income were more interested in

    becoming teachers than those in schools with high university admission rates and

    from families with high monthly household income. On the Chinese mainland, Su

    et al. (2001) discovered that many of the participants in their research disliked the

    teaching profession and they came into the teacher education programmes due to

    low university entrance exam scores and lack of financial support. The findings of Su

    et al. (2001) indicate that the student teachers life experiences strongly mediate their

    attitudes towards the profession (see also Bodycott 1997). These participants, whose

    parents were teachers, and who lived in cramped residences with their parents

    allocated by schools, developed remarkably negative attitudes towards the teaching

    profession as they came to believe that teaching and teachers were not respected.

    In short, these studies project a paradox of teaching as a highly valued but

    unpopular profession among Chinese students in various Chinese cultural contexts

    such as Hong Kong and the Chinese mainland. This creates a puzzle given the

    enthusiasm among mainland Chinese applicants to attend teacher training

    programmes in Hong Kong. One possible explanation for the puzzle directs our

    attention to the processes in the wider social and educational context on the Chinese

    mainland.

    The educational context on the Chinese mainland

    Education occupies a central position in the Chinese cultural tradition and remains a

    top priority among most Chinese people (Elman 2000; Lee 2000; Thgersen 2002).

    The public regard education as one of the most important means to acquire

    academic and literacy skills as well as achieve upward social mobility and personal

    development (Thgersen 2002). Education is also an investment in gaining highly

    valued cultural and social capital (Bai 2006).

    Education in China has always been highly competitive. In the past 10 years,

    academic competition has been particularly intense largely due to the rapid

    expansion of tertiary education and the commercialisation of education. The

    commercialisation of education means that users have to pay more for their

    education, while the expansion in the tertiary educational sector has led to an

    increasing number of unemployed tertiary graduates and uncertain returns on

    educational investment (Bai 2006; Postiglione 2005). In order to succeed in such a

    competitive educational context, many Chinese started attaching great importance

    to the learning of foreign languages, especially English. Elite families send their

    children to private schools or employ private tutors so that they can get an early start

    in the race to learn English. Better education and English competence are widely

    conceived by these emerging Chinese middle-class families as essential to securing a

    better future for their child. As a result, China has witnessed a massive outflow of

    Journal of Education for Teaching 147

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  • Chinese students to overseas institutions, in particular, to Anglophone countries

    where education is delivered through the medium of English (Gu and Schweisfurth

    2006; Li and Bray 2007; Tan and Simpson 2008). It is in the context of this ongoing

    outflow of students from the Chinese mainland in search of better academic

    credentials and English competence that Hong Kong has become a favoured

    destination (Gao 2008a; Li and Bray 2007; Singtao Daily 2008a, 2008b).

    The study

    The interview study reported in this paper is the starting point of a longitudinal

    ethnographic inquiry into the process of mainland Chinese students development,

    first as student teachers of English at the Institute and, second, as English teachers in

    Hong Kong schools. As a baseline study, the interviews aimed to understand the

    participants prior experiences and, in particular, address the question as to why

    these elite mainland Chinese students chose Hong Kong for their teacher training

    programmes.

    As most of the mainland Chinese students chose the English language education

    programme in the Institute, the inquiry involved 10 first-year mainland Chinese

    undergraduates in the Department of English (see Table 1). The selected participants

    largely represented the wide mainland Chinese student population at the Institute.

    As can be seen from Table 1, most (including those from Beijing, Shanghai,

    Zhejiang, Hubei and Shandong) spoke Putonghua and their hometown dialects.

    Three were from Guangdong province and spoke Cantonese. Though we were

    interested in finding out why they came to Hong Kong for teacher training, we also

    took the view that individual motivation is mediated by social contexts and life

    experiences (Bodycott 1997; Gao 2008a; Su et al. 2001). For this reason, we adopted

    a biographical narrative interview approach in the study because life history

    interviews or the biographical method, through which research participants

    retrospective accounts of their experiences are collected and analysed, help capture

    Table 1. The study participants.

    No. Name Gen...