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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
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: email@example.com
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
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
(1) Altruistic reasons refer to individuals perceptions of teaching as a socially
important job and desires to help society and children improve through
(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
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
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
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 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
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...