Study of minorities in mainstream schools ridiculed

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 22 November, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 22 November, 2008, 12:00am

Rights group says report 'unacademic'

A rights group has ridiculed an Education Bureau study of non-Chinese-speaking students' performance in mainstream primary schools as 'unacademic' and 'a waste of public money'.

The three-year study, conducted for the bureau by Chinese University chair professor of educational psychology Hau Kit-tai, comes after the first group of non-Chinese-speaking pupils entered the schools following a change in allocations rules in 2004.

The results, released this week after a one-year delay, appear to suggest that the students were less disadvantaged from studying in mainstream schools than 'some people had feared'.

'The present research showed that mainstream Chinese schools provided the best Chinese immersion programmes for NCS students and that most NCS students allocated to mainstream schools ... were progressing satisfactorily,' Professor Hau wrote in the executive summary.

He said early integration in a total immersion environment meant the students learned Chinese more quickly and more efficiently than they would at one of the designated schools that specialise in admitting non-Chinese-speaking students - 2004 was the first year non-Chinese-speaking families were given the option of choosing between the two.

'The level of Chinese spoken by the worst NCS student in a mainstream school is better than the best student in a designated school,' Professor Hau said. 'After six months in a mainstream school, it is no problem.'

However, around one in five of the students in the study was identified as falling far behind their classmates in learning Chinese.

The study did not address why more than half of the 63 non- Chinese-speaking students who were allocated Primary One places in mainstream schools had either dropped out or been pulled out of the study before the end of Primary Three by their schools.

Fermi Wong Wai-fun, director of rights group Unison, said it was 'ridiculous' to draw conclusions from a study with only 31 pupils.

'You really cannot tell anything with a sample size that small,' she said. 'To suggest otherwise would be unprofessional and unacademic. This has been a wasted opportunity but it is also a waste of time and a waste of public funds.'

Ms Wong said the findings bore no resemblance to the situation she had observed working with schools and ethnic minorities families - having seen numerous families pull children from mainstream schools.

She was particularly concerned about the study's assertion that 'NCS students had not been discriminated against'. 'I have seen primary school students being beaten by their classmates while being called racist names,' she said. 'If that is not discrimination, I don't know what is.'

Professor Hau said there was 'no problem' about the representative nature of the study because 'our data includes every single student' who completed the first three years

He later admitted he had partial data on only 10 of the 41 students who originally took part, as either they had left their school or the school had withdrawn from the study.