20 May 2019
Ensuring decent education for ethnic minority children will help them integrate into the community and allow them to contribute to society. Photo: Yahoo
Ensuring decent education for ethnic minority children will help them integrate into the community and allow them to contribute to society. Photo: Yahoo

Helping ethnic minority students integrate into society

A recent report published by Hong Kong Unison indicates that even though the administration has diverted substantial resources into helping ethnic minority students in Hong Kong to adapt to our mainstream school curriculum, the policy initiatives have failed to achieve the desired results.

The organization urged the government to step up efforts in formulating long-term policies on ethnic minority students, such as setting phase-based learning goals, laying down guidelines on teaching, academic assessment, as well as enhancing training for teachers.

The state of education of ethnic minority students in Hong Kong has become a cause for growing concern in society in recent years.

As birth rates in Hong Kong continue to shrink, the proportion of ethnic minority children to ethnic Chinese kids in the city has been shifting dramatically over the past decade.

According to a report published by the Census and Statistics Department in 2016, non-Chinese Asians, including Filipinos, Indonesians, Indians, Pakistanis, Nepalis, Bangladeshis and Sri Lankans, made up 80 percent of the ethnic minorities in Hong Kong, and their numbers grew by 70 percent between 2006 and 2016.

Ensuring that young people from ethnic minorities can receive decent education is important because by doing so, we can help them integrate into the community and allow them to contribute to society.

However, if they are deprived of the right to decent education, it will not only affect their own personal life, but will also have negative effects on social harmony.

Given the high stakes, it is therefore important for the government to improve the overall learning conditions of ethnic minority students. In particular, the administration should devise special measures to help them master the Chinese language.

In order to address their learning issues and formulate a suitable set of education policies for them, we must first have a comprehensive picture of the demographics of ethnic minority students in Hong Kong, such as how many of them were actually born and raised in our city.

I did raise this question with the government at the Legislative Council, only to be told by officials of the Education Bureau (EDB) that they were unable to provide such data.

And that automatically begs the question: How possibly could our government truly address the education problems facing ethnic minority students and formulate a long-term policy for them if our decision-makers in the EDB don’t even have the most basic data about them?

Over the years, our government has been focused on the primary and secondary school stages when dealing with education issues facing ethnic minority students, while often neglecting the pre-school stage.

However, in my opinion, good kindergarten and pre-kindergarten education is key to helping ethnic minority students integrate into our mainstream school curriculum.

It is during their kindergarten years that most children are at their key and decisive stage of language acquisition. The importance of helping ethnic minority students to learn Chinese during their kindergarten years cannot be overstated.

Besides, allowing ethnic minority children to learn in a multi-ethnic and trans-cultural environment can also lay a solid foundation for their integration into society in the future.

As such, it would be a good idea if we can allow ethnic minority students to interact with local Chinese students and learn Chinese together in class starting from the kindergarten stage.

Apart from the classroom, we should also help facilitate a bilingual environment for ethnic minority students at home.

Since many ethnic minority parents don’t speak Chinese well, the EDB should consider providing support for these parents, such as allowing them to learn Chinese with their kids using kindergartens as a platform through the help of social workers or community service institutions.

As for ethnic minority students who have either missed their best chance of picking up Chinese at an early age or have arrived at Hong Kong when they were already in their teenage years, the government should help them learn Chinese as a second language (CSL).

The EDB, for instance, can provide short-term “initiation learning programs” or one-on-one learning sessions to help them pick up Chinese as quickly as possible.

However, these initiatives wouldn’t work without extra resources for schools and more intense and systematic training for teachers.

Indeed, the government has a pivotal role to play when it comes to helping ethnic minority students learn Chinese and facilitating their integration into society.

This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on May 30

Translation by Alan Lee

[Chinese version 中文版]

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Legislative Council member from the education sector

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