No challenge too daunting for two young women, miles apart

Alice Wu is grateful to two remarkable young women for inspiring Hong Kong with their courage in the face of adversity

PUBLISHED : Monday, 22 July, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 22 July, 2013, 1:33am

Good news is hard to come by, and when an extraordinary feel-good story comes our way, it inspires us to be better individuals and jolts society to see opportunities for change. In the span of one week, we had two remarkable and empowering stories. And we have two young women to thank.

Malala Yousafzai, a Pakistani activist who fought for education rights for girls, for which she was shot by a Taliban gunman last October, gave a "sweet sixteen" speech at the UN a little over a week ago, and gave the world a glimpse of her extraordinary beauty - one that stems from her purpose in life.

What Malala went through just to attend school may be unimaginable to most of us, because no one in Hong Kong has to risk their life to get an education. Yet for this city's ethnic minorities, universal basic education isn't always accessible. Without knowledge of the Chinese language and schools equipped with the right curriculum and teachers, these students are systematically left behind in Hong Kong.

Malala's personal triumph against savagery, and her recovery, with renewed strength and hope, must be a call to action for us.

As Malala spoke up for people's right to be educated, we, too, must speak up. Even with 12 years of compulsory basic education, Hong Kong is still not paying adequate attention to second-language needs. If education is what equips the young with the tools of success, we are systematically failing those with special learning needs, and we have been obstructing their pursuit of further education and, eventually, gainful employment.

Too many children of Hong Kong's ethnic minority communities do not make it far up the education ladder. Their under-representation in local higher education has even made the UN Human Rights Committee concerned, and it is a system that former civil servant and current director general of Oxfam Hong Kong Stephen Fisher calls unjust, because it creates poverty.

We must also thank Tsang Tsz-kwan, a student at Ying Wa Girls' College who has been blind from infancy and hearing-impaired since Primary One, for grabbing headlines - at home and abroad - with her scores at the Diploma of Secondary Education exams. Demonstrating how she reads Braille with her lips - due to the lack of sensitivity in her fingers - Tsang has impressed many with her will and tenacity to overcome adversities.

Tsang serves not only as an inspiration for our youth, but she is also a hero for all of us. She has shown us what is truly important - the courage to take on challenges. And it is exactly this message that needs to be heard by our policymakers and educators.

Providing quality Chinese-language education for ethnic minorities and non-Chinese-speaking students is a challenge. Providing for students with special needs is a challenge.

We must accept that our inability to provide for these students puts us, as a society, at a disadvantage, because education is the bedrock of any free society. We must face these challenges head-on - Malala has made it necessary; Tsang has proven it is possible.

Alice Wu is a political consultant and a former associate director of the Asia Pacific Media Network at UCLA