How Messaging Technology Brought Nightmare to Hong Kong Teachers

It’s not just students in Hong Kong feeling the pressure of school life with too much assignments to fulfill, lack of sleep and pressure from family and peers. Teachers as well are getting too much exposure to modern instant messaging from parents, students and colleagues.

Just like smartphones that have capability to read and reply to emails at work that workers tend to reply to them even during weekends or vacations, messaging technology that connects teachers with other academic stakeholders have overwhelmed them at a South China Morning Post concede a teacher group is hoping a guideline on allowing them to go “offline after work” — another way of saying granting teachers right to ignore messages they receive long after school hours.

But I doubt that even as “offline after work” becomes a guideline among teachers, the lure of that smartphone device to keep in touch with others (family members, friends and other social groups) is irresistible that messages from a parent asking for feedback on child progress or a student asking for clarification on a lesson earlier in the day at the next message thread becomes almost impossible to ignore.

It doesn’t help that messaging apps offer hints to the sender whether the message has successfully been sent, and read, so teachers are likely prompted to reply, even just by telling the sender to defer the response later. While deferring responses, teachers can’t help bu think of the messages and sometimes this affects the way they behave after work — difficulty to fall sleep or change plans to accommodate concerns conveyed to them.

The Federation of Education Workers has interviewed 500 teachers in January and found out that 93 per cent of respondents discussed worked outside school hours using WhatsApp, WeChat or Facebook. Fifty-one per cent of them responded on enquiries by parents on these platforms, and 27 per cent of them even counselled students through such medium.

On the positive side, it helps improve flow of information, and more urgent concerns reach the right party without waiting for the next school day, as 72 per cent of the surveyed teachers believe so.

Yet 67 per cent of them felt these messages through smartphone apps affected their private life and 61 per cent said communications done after work had intensified job pressure.

More than three-fourths of the respondents believe the Education Bureau should set up a guideline to provide teachers the right to go offline after work.

My wife is a teacher and she has particularly expressed dismay over how some parents try to connect with her through Facebook friend requests or that some parents who belong to a WhatsApp group instigate fellow parents to complain about the school system even if a particular concern doesn’t necessarily involve them.

If you look at your own smartphone and examine WhatsApp, Viber, WeChat or Facebook Messenger, you’ll notice you perhaps belong to to a dozen or more groups: fellow workers, family, church group, academic, social and hobby groups that sometimes it’s hard to keep up even if some of these apps offer “mute” functions.

For school teachers, these groups are only poised to grow. Every year, new colleagues take over, new students to handle, new teams and responsibilities to work on, and new friends to interact with, while the old groups don’t necessarily disband.

So while we benefit from the free messaging apps instead of paying our carrier SMS fees, we are also on the receiving end of such overwhelming messages that unfortunately alter our lifestyles and like what the teachers claim, lose our private lives.

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